I've been involved in patient/caregiver advocacy for about 7 years now. I get to hear a lot of patient stories and patient experiences. As a hospital board member I hear a lot about what patients complain about in health care. I've noticed something interesting.
Complaints about things like cost of parking and the quality of food are very common. Are these real issues? Most definitely. These are real issues but are they the most pressing issues in health care. Not by a long shot.
Are complaints about non-medical issues like parking and food quality a function of growing frustration with health care?
This seems like a fairly innocuous observation but it highlights a bigger problem. Health care is extremely intimidating for most non-medical people. If you have a concern about a medical issue, it can be a very difficult process. You are dealing with a significant power imbalance as it is you against a very technical bureaucracy. When a subject like the high cost of parking comes up patients and caregivers feel a lot more comfortable complaining about that issue than discussing hospital protocols or treatment strategies.
Many people are frustrated with the state of health care. Health care is often cited as one of the most important issues facing Canadians. Although I pay an exorbitant amount on hospital parking, it is not in my top ten of health care concerns. Wait times have become common place and almost accepted in some jurisdictions. Lack of equipment, poor communication, and shortages of Doctors and Nurses are far more pressing issues than parking.
Parking is one of those issues that is usually the "straw that breaks the camel's back." Imagine yourself being called for a follow up appointment following a biopsy. You are waiting for a result from a test, and deep down you know the test result may not be good news. Your mind is jumping to all kinds of conclusions and you are on an emotional roller coaster. All before you even arrive at the appointment. When you make your way to the appointment you attempt to find a parking spot. You drive in circles and hunt and hunt. You can't find one. Your emotional state has now jumped off the chart. In desperation you find a meter to park at. You throw whatever change you have at the meter and hurry to your dreaded appointment, hoping to be back before the meter expires. You head off to your appointment where you hear the dreaded news. You have cancer. The rest of the appointment is a blur as very caring and competent staff explain next steps. You hear the words but only a few register. Many of the words you don't even understand. All you recognize are words like "surgery" and "radiation". You are dazed. Because of the diagnosis and the conversations that happen because of the diagnosis. You end up staying much longer than you had expected. When you return to your car, dazed from the medical bombardment you have just endured, there it is. The parking ticket. It is at this point, alone and confused, with a clenched parking ticket in your fist where all the emotion comes together. This is the breaking point. Although the parking ticket is what may set you off...it is everything that lead up to that point that is the "real" issue.
Although the scenario I described above is hypothetical, I've had very similar experiences to this.
The one thing I have had to remind myself over and over is to prioritize. I need to concentrate on the people I care for and how I support them. I need to focus on issues that effect their health. Parking fees are an irritant but they are not what I need to be focused on. It's not that important. Ironically, when I discuss issues in health care, the subject of parking usually comes up. It's an issue people gravitate to again and again. It's just something that resonates and that anyone can relate too. We are missing the bigger health care picture.