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Patients, hospitals, distractions

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With Lorraine Lusinje:

Every day, mobile phones are taking over the world. How we interact and communicate with people around us is highly dependent on our mobile phones. It is almost impossible to imagine that there was a point in life when getting a message to someone could take a week or weeks; now someone not responding to a message for an hour is considered inconsiderate because we are living in a world of instant communication.

Our phones come with an array of applications, access to information and a growing façade of relevance. False emergencies are the order of the day; we think that we need to attend to everything immediately. The tendency is slowly nurturing technological zombies that always have a mobile phone interfering with their work, relationships and life experiences.

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The medical profession has not been spared. As one of the people who have received poor services at more than one of Malawi’s hospitals, I was pleased to see some quarters lobbying for a ban on the use of mobile phones in wards. I cannot even recall the number of times I have arrived at the hospital in pain only to have service delayed because some people want to attend to their phones first.

Aside from phones, some medical personnel generally do not provide the best service and are too lax about handling patients or about the ambience that a hospital should have. The other time, a lady at the reception took her time to even appear at the desk. She appeared later with her baby in hand and it looked like she was babysitting; no explanation or apology were given for the delay. The other day, the whole hospital lobby had staff watching football and cheering while patients were receiving treatment.

So, when I saw a newspaper article on the possibility of banning phones in wards, I was one of the people who got excited thinking maybe this might bring some positive change. After I voiced out my thoughts, a raging debate ensued between myself and some medical practitioners in my circle. There was another side to the whole shebang that was rather interesting. I received passionate feedback on the issue (banning of phones in wards), the highlights are below:

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Doctor one: This has a downside in the management of patients. It is good in the sense that hospital personnel have been irresponsible in protecting the rights of the patients. But it is important to have phones where you can cross check things before finalising management plan for a patient. And I agree with you, most personnel are not mindful and are not always cross-checking management plans for patients. But this is unfair, unfortunately, for those who do so. We use guidelines, we have to crosscheck drug doses because there is nobody that knows everything. It will affect patient care considerably.

Doctor two: …But there is a part in medicine that technology plays and that is where we are going.

Most of my books now can fit in my phone and I will look up for a prescription on some app on my phone. If I want to calculate how old a pregnancy is, I have an app for that.

I will admit I had not considered that side of things before I got enlightened on the matter. However, as much as it gave a different perceptive that most of us had not thought of, there was still the question of whether the majority of medical personnel that are seen with mobile phones in hand when servicing patients are using them for this purpose. Also since this technological crosschecking is becoming the norm, why is this information not being formally communicated to patients?

Talking about communication, as the debate ensued, someone who had a surgery performed on them in South Africa commented that during consultations leading to the surgery, their doctor constantly took notes complete with images and would communicate that they would be taking notes beforehand. By the time they left the hospital, the doctor would have emailed the notes to them. What an inclusive approach.

At the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves who really protects patients’ rights? There are many noble medical personnel who are trying so hard to assist patients with the limited resources at hand, while a few others sometimes take things a bit too lightly and leave patients feeling like they have been served a raw deal. Imagine being in pain, paying a lot of money and being treated poorly; not acceptable at all.

There should be a clear code of ethics; people’s lives are at risk. People are already in pain; let us not add salt to the wound unnecessarily.

I rest my case.

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