Zero Harm: Why it Matters to Me – Experts by Experience
“Dad was in ER today,” my mother-in-law told me in her native Korean.
A week ago, while at work, Dad (a.k.a. my father-in-law) had bumped his head hard. It was only when he had to sit down because he felt a sudden coldness on his head, that he drove – after work – to my brother-in-law’s home so they could all go to the emergency room (ER). It’s a family trip whenever they need medical care because they cannot communicate in English.
While talking about his ER experience, Dad shared how the room was full and he had to wait for hours to be seen. He observed a patient walking out of the ER with a bleeding hand, followed by a nurse who herded the patient back into the ER. I thought to myself, “This is normal, Dad. Welcome to health care in America.”
Dad probably decided not to seek immediate medical care at the time of the incident because of his inability to communicate in English. Besides being worried about the medical bill, he may have felt it was a hassle to call one of us and arrange to go to the doctor. And I couldn’t assure him that an interpreter would be available to translate his language or accurately convey the context of his communication.
I decided to pursue pharmacy after seeing tragic medical mishaps
As a caregiver for my own father, who passed away 12 years ago, such negative experiences have made me bitter about the health care system. I decided to pursue pharmacy after seeing tragic medical mishaps – complications from multiple insulin overdoses that possibly contributed to my father’s death. It was a week before his trip to South Korea, with the hope of getting more affordable care – instead it ended up being a trip to report his death.
Once I became a pharmacist, I observed how miscommunication has led to a majority of patient safety issues – I realized I was only at the tip of the iceberg. I’d often wonder whether healthcare professionals think or care about the patient population that has language and cultural barriers – everyday issues for people like my family. It was then that I decided to pursue a master’s program in health communication.
My chosen path has molded me to be the voice for patients like my two Dads. Studies claim that anywhere between 40,000 to 200,000 deaths occur each year, within the United States, due to medical harm. I cannot fathom how many people like my father are out there, or how many families are affected because they don’t know how to recognize medical harm, or how to communicate and report it.
How can we avoid mistakes and achieve zero harm?
How can we avoid mistakes and achieve zero harm? If you are like me, taking care of family members with communication barriers, do your best to accompany them, or consider hiring patient advocates. Are you a bilingual health care professional? Advocate for your cultural communities to help vulnerable patients who cannot understand the complexities of our health care system.
By making unique issues such as interpreter services and health literacy a part of the discussion, especially for patients who face communication barriers, we can achieve the goals of zero harm in health care across the country.
Experts by Experience is a collaboration between Inspire and Mayo Clinic Connect, online support communities for patients and caregivers. By sharing their stories, patients and caregivers awaken, inform, and strengthen the capacity to partner in their care. The stories also help clinicians and non-medical professionals in health care implement patient-informed practices in their interactions and communications, by uncovering opportunities for quality improvement. The series showcases the value of shared experiences and features contributors from around the globe.
About the Author: Wedding videographer and caregiver turned pharmacist, Soojin Jun is passionate about the advancement of pharmacists as providers; she has a Facebook page, “Recognize Pharmacists as Providers.” Soojin Jun is committed towards patient safety and quality improvement for all, and loves bringing artistic creativity into the chaos of healthcare to solve problems. Find her on Twitter at @jun_soojin