Hospitals are never an easy place to be, and the quality of care you receive as a patient can be depend strongly on the quality of advocates you have by your side. The frustration visitors experience can certainly be magnified when trips to the hospital fall over the weekend or late at night.
But when my dad, who was visiting from Chicago this weekend, was in need of emergency medical care in the wee early hours of Saturday morning, I was confident the highly touted University of Wisconsin Hospital would give him the attention and care he deserved.
After a weekend of incredibly maddening patient relations and medical attention, though, my perception of UW Hospital has unfortunately taken quite a hit – to the point I convinced my father to take the trip back home to Chicago to receive the quality of attention he deserves. It turns out that although UW Hospital is impressively ranked and listed as a Level One Trauma Center, these accolades only ring true when it is convenient for its staff.
Allow me to preface all of this by saying that the nurses and doctors who were actually in the building treated my father with respect. They ensured his comfort and patiently allowed for his attempts at patient humor and strife. They also listened to my concerns regarding his care, but, at no fault to them, had no suitable answers. The reality is that UW Hospital, for all intents and purposes, essentially shuts down to absolute minimal function over the weekend.
My father, who came into the emergency room with severe chest pains and was considered an emergent case Saturday morning, needed an echocardiogram. After several hours of seeing various doctors and starting different medicines, they changed his status from emergent, and in so doing, bumped his echo back.
Hours passed with no information on the status of his test. We found out that this test – which was critical to properly diagnosing and treating him and required before discharge – would not be performed until Monday at the earliest because no one in the entire hospital at the time was capable of performing this relatively simple exam over the weekend. His stay would be needlessly extended until Monday and a diagnosis would be hanging in the air.
According to one of my father’s caregivers, if his medical emergency had occurred during the week, his experience would have been different. I strongly urge UW Hospital to reconsider this thinking. When doctors take an oath, technicians sign up with a world-renowned hospital and when a major medical care center opens its doors, they are all making a promise of quality care, regardless of when it is convenient for staff. The medical world – especially the emergency aspect of it – does not stop over the weekend, and neither should the quality of care its disseminators provide.
Based on my experience, a reasonable number of doctors and technicians were nowhere to be found. Other noncritical services and amenities, such as closed parking services and coffee shops, were put on hold, slated to resume Monday morning. I also heard a message that patient relations staff – i.e. the people you turn to when you’re having the kinds of problems we were – no longer carry beepers on the weekend.
This weekend-off attitude is simply unacceptable in the world we live in. I have no doubt entirely unstable patients are tended to with more immediacy, but the ramifications of this kind of treatment in today’s society are immense. A hospital stay that is costly – both in time and money – should not ever be extended simply because the patient’s body “decided” Friday evening was the best time to seek medical attention and because key staff want to work on a schedule that should be reserved for the corporate world.
UW Hospital fairly prides itself on a long list of incredibly talented doctors and other medical professionals. But the way in which the hospital allows such critical aspects of patient care to fall through the cracks over the weekend is embarrassing. This detracts from the top-notch care it provides patients with during the work week.
The medical field is largely based on trust – an understanding must be established between the patient and his or her caregivers. Patients, especially those who find themselves without proper advocates, are vulnerable in a relationship that is too often defined by one-sided power.
This dynamic does not excuse the abuse of that relationship in a manner that puts the medical professionals’ personal needs ahead of their patients. A hospital is not an easy place to be, but UW Hospital has the ability to ensure its patients and their caregivers are put at ease, knowing that an equal standard of responsibility and quality is instilled in its staff day in and day out.
Pamela Selman ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.