Over the past few weeks I have been working on a series of blog posts. A topic that is not talked about a great deal but that I have learned is an important skill for everyone who advocates within the health care system. The “Art of Complaining.”
I strongly believe that most of my adult life I have been preparing to be a patient advocate and a caregiver. That seems odd given that before our diagnosis a little over nine years ago I had almost no involvement in health care. Let me explain.
In my entire professional care I have found myself in management positions with very little line authority (direct reports). I have been an "influencer" but not in "command." Only on rare occasions, in my career, have I had a large staff reporting to me that I could delegate work to. I have usually been in situations where I have to "borrow" other people in the organization to get things done. You are entirely dependant on other people. I’ve mostly worked in Human Resources and as a Project Manager. These are two roles where you are usually in a position of trying to support or enlist the support of others. Both of these roles usually force you to try to enlist resources be it equipment, people, or time for you to be able to get your work or project done. Many times I’ve worked in the background, doing things that many other people didn’t have the time to do. Over time I’ve actually learned to enjoy the challenge. Then I had the distinction of becoming a caregiver and having to do many of the same things that I did every day at work. Try to advocate and support a patient in a system where I had little to know authority.
I laugh now when I look back at our first “serious” encounters in the health care system and realize how completely clueless we were. In every sense of the word “we didn’t know what we didn’t know.” Inevitably, we had some situations come up where we questioned what was happening. Some issues were small like the “attitude” we got when we didn’t know something. Then there were the bigger things where we felt significant pieces of information were being withheld from us. These are serious issues that need to be addressed…but where do you turn ? Who do you talk to? When you are new to the system you have a difficult enough time trying to find a place to get a coffee never mind if you have a legitimate complaint. Who is the right person to talk to? What is the process? No one teaches you how to do this. However, the art of complaining is an essential skill that every patient and caregiver needs to know. It is an essential Health Care Survival Skill. I do not claim to have all of the answers or a magic solution but what I wanted to do was share some of our experiences when we had to learn how to complain - and in some cases it became a matter of life and death. This is important. Hopefully, from some of our experiences there can be some lessons learned. There may be some people who may be just starting their health care journey and can take something from it. It is safe to say that we have had some successes and some failures. It’s all about learning and improving and questioning the things that need to be questioned.
The first thing I would ask anyone who feels they want to raise an issue in health care is…”why do you want to raise the issue?” Is it to help themselves, to help others, or are they just angry? Not everyone who complains has noble intentions. Some people are angry and just want to tear a strip off of anyone who will listen. I’ve encountered this many times. I get it. I’ve been there, but it’s not constructive. There are many blog posts I have written, that have never been published, and that were definitely written in anger. I was able to convey my feelings and write them down and “purge” them. It works for me. Others may have different coping mechanisms. Going to the gym, music, confiding in a trusted friend. They can all be legitimate means of “letting off some steam” in a way that will not jeopardize a relationship with a health care provider who you may need to rely on in the future.
If you want to address a concern or go through the formal complaints process always ask yourself…”Why am I doing this?” “Am I being part of the solution or am I contributing to the problem?” “What do I hope to accomplish?” These are important questions to ask as I have encountered many people who have less than genuine intentions when they complain, or write a nasty letter, vent on facebook, or go to the media. If you are on a personal mission of self-promotion…just stop it. You’re not helping. This comment is directed at myself as much as anyone as I have asked these questions of myself many times.
It is vitally important that “real” issues be addressed. This is how change happens. Many positive changes can start out as a simple complaint from a patient or family member. That is why it is so important when we decide to “take on” the system that we do so in an effective manner. Being effective in an organization that you have little to no authority is not easy and we need every tip and trick possible. This is why I want to share some of our experiences. I know there are many out there who have their own ways of “getting things done.” The experiences I share are just a few examples.
...next post...Part 2: Informal Complaints