Doctors, nurses and clinical officers in Malawiâ€™s public hospitals are underpaid and overworked, but that should not stop you, as a patient, from demanding the best possible care.
I remember a comment from one of my medical students who said something along the lines of â€œat Queens, even as a third-year student, they [patients] still call us doctors, treat us like gods.â€
I have seen it so many times in the wards, patients gazing with scared admiration at the doctors, afraid to ask, demand information or ask for help. Respect is one thing, reverence is another. Doctors, clinical officers and nurses, I am not hating you at all, but by becoming a health care professional, you have chosen an important calling â€œto help peopleâ€. By having empowered patients, you help them help themselves, because â€œknowledge can be the best medicine of allâ€.
I am that annoying patient, the one who wants every detail explained, how did you come to that diagnosis, are there other treatment options, what will the medicine do, what is the prognosis, what has caused this, what is the test for, when will I get the results, what are the possible complications and I tend to have my doctorsâ€™ numbers on speed dial.Â
The horror stories of rude nurses neglecting patients as they drink tea and gossip will hopefully be a thing of the past with the National Association of Nursesâ€™ attempts to improve their conduct. Why punish an often helpless patient because of grievances with pay, resources and hours, something which the patient is not responsible for?
Public hospitals serve a spectrum of patients from the educated, wealthy to the less privileged. It is the less privileged who get the tough end of care. They are usually afraid to speak up or not sure about the right questions to ask.
Prepare the questions in advance. For persons with HIV, ask questions regarding tests, treatment, what the results mean, side effects, complications and drug options. Time during a medical appointment is limited, use it wisely. Doctors know a lot of things, but they do not know everything. If they cannot answer your questions, then they should direct you to someone who can.
The University of Malawi, College of Medicineâ€™s Malawi Rights Watch, a group promoting and protecting the rights of patients and health care practitioners, lists patients rights: right to preventive measures, right to access, right to information, right to consent, right to privacy and confidentiality, right to respect of patients, right to the observance of quality standards, right to safety, right to avoid unnecessary suffering and pain.