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Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Positive Patient Experience



As consumers, we all have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and manage our health in a proactive manner. Today, the concept of ‘managing our own health’ or ‘staying healthy’ often translates to eating healthy and regular exercise, while going to the doctor is associated with being sick. In fact, visiting the doctor regularly for preventive care is an important part of staying healthy.

I feel like I have been proactive in taking care of myself by getting regular checkups and having most of the preventative screening test - except for one…my colonoscopy. I am embarrassed to say that I have procrastinated for 11 years in having a colonoscopy despite it being recommended by several doctors during annual examinations.

I can hear the collective groan from all of you reading this. You probably think I am going to answer the million-dollar question of WHY have I put this test off for so long with a thoughtful answer?  I honestly can say that I have no good reason to justify my procrastination- except that I was afraid to have a colonoscopy so I put it off year after year.

So what changed my mind and prompted me to get a colonoscopy after an 11 year delay? What changed my mind was a blunt doctor who drove the point home to me like no other doctor ever has.

Here is what happened.

As you know, I was diagnosed with a central nervous system brain tumor in late November 2014. During chemotherapy that successfully eradicated the tumor, it was found that I had elevated liver enzymes. To evaluate this, my oncologist recommended I see a Hepatologist. During the assessment, the doctor asked me “when my last colonoscopy was. I replied, “well I have not had my first one yet.” He looked directly at me and said; “so let me get this straight - you are going to beat brain cancer but die from colon cancer.”  Those words stuck with me over the next few months, and I promised myself, that when I got stronger, I would have my colonoscopy.  I am proud to say that I had my first colonoscopy on February 10, 2016!

I would like to share my story as it demonstrates the system does work and provides a good example of how one facility scored high in satisfying this patient. So here it goes.

At the beginning of January, I had gotten the name of a GI specialist from a friend and called to make an appointment. I visited him for a preliminary examination to schedule the colonoscopy. The office staff was very pleasant and efficient. The tech who brought me in took my vital signs and weight was kind and caring. As we talked, she shared that she was a breast cancer survivor. She was a young woman and shared how the experience has impacted her. I was impressed when she shared that she was able to work during her treatments. She said she was tired and at times it was hard for her to come in every day, but she was working through the process.  Next, I saw the doctor for my interview.  He came into the room, said hello without making eye contact with me and got right to work. He reviewed my chart and asked me some questions again without actually looking at me. His demeanor let me know that he did not have time for small talk, so I answered his questions so not to delay him. He then examined me and once done, said he was glad to meet me and that he would see me when I had my procedure. Next I went to the scheduler so we could set the date for my colonoscopy. The scheduler gave me a few dates that were open, and we picked February 10th at 7 am. She went through the process and what I would take as a prep. She explained everything very clearly, and I felt good and ready to move forward.

I am sure most of you reading this post will agree with me that the next step in the process is the worst part of the entire event: The PREP. I won’t go into detail except to say that I hope by the time I have to have my next colonoscopy there will be a better way.

On the scheduled day, February 10th, I arrived at the surgical center at the appointed time. The receptionist was bright and friendly (even at 6:30 am.)  She reviewed and completed all the paperwork and then let the nurse know I was ready. I was taken back to the pre-op room where I was prepared for the procedure. Everyone was pleasant, friendly and efficient. The nurse even gave me heated blankets, made sure my belongings were stored and was able to insert the IV on the first try! I was feeling safe, comfortable and prepared. As I waited to be taken to the procedure room, I observed the action going on around me. It brought back memories of working in the emergency department with everyone moving around doing needed activities while talking about what they were going to for the weekend. What stood out to me the most as I waited, was that at every step, each person introduced themselves to me (and the other patients in the pre-op room), asked our names, our date of birth and why we were there. These questions were reassuring to me that the staff was taking precautions to make sure their patients were safe.

Around 7:30 a.m., a nurse came over to me and said she was going to be my nurse for the procedure and was I ready. I said yes and off we went. In the procedure room, I looked around and noted where the O2 was, where the suction machine was, and where the emergency cart was. As a nurse, I was a little nervous having the procedure in a surgical center and not the hospital, but everything seemed to be in order. I told myself everything was going to be ok and said a little prayer for insurance.  To take my mind off of things, I talked to the GI tech and the nurse as they got things ready. Next the anesthesiologists came in and said hello to me. He asked me a few questions that indicated he had read my chart and was familiar with my history. This gave me confidence that I was in good hands. He got the meds ready while the nurse positioned me for the procedure. Both asked me if I was comfortable and said to relax while we waited for the doctor.

My doctor came in, said hello to the team and then came over to me and asked me how I was doing and if I was ready. I told him, yes, and he said ok, let’s get started. The next thing I remember was hearing people talking and someone calling my name and telling me to wake up. I was in the recovery room, and the procedure was over. As I woke up, the nurse gave me some juice, removed my IV and gave me my clothes so I could get dressed. The doctor came over and asked me how I was. He said everything went well. He said I had a small polyp which he said was benign, but they would test it, and he would let me know the results as soon as they were back.

The nurse brought my husband in, gave us the instructions and walked us to the car. Later in the day, the doctor called to see how I was doing. I told him I was fine and thanked him for the call. He said to call him if I had any trouble; as he would be there for me. I smiled after we talked and I thought he was a nice person, and I was glad he was my doctor.

The next day around 8 am, I got a call from the Surgical Center to see how I was doing. I told them I was fine and asked the person calling to thank everyone who cared for me. I said, “you have a great team, and I was grateful for their care." Later in the day, I got another call from the doctor who wanted to let me know that the polyp he found was negative, and he would see me in 3 years.

I wanted to share this story, as it is an example of how the system can and does work in providing safe, effective care. I had an excellent experience from everyone who cared for me and as a result, I will not be afraid to have my next colonoscopy in 3 years as recommended by my doctor.

I urge anyone who has been putting off getting their colonoscopy or any other preventative test to take a deep breath and make the appointment. Don’t be afraid and you will feel relieved when it is over.

Hope you have a good week!