My recent surgeries and extended stays in the hospital were an eye opener into our in-patient healthcare system. Despite the doctor missing my fractured femur, I feel I otherwise got good medical care. But, I sometimes also felt confused and overwhelmed. There was a team of physicians who saw me during my admissions:
- Hospitalists, (5 different ones)
- Surgeon, and surgical residents
- Infectious Disease specialists, (5 different ones)
The hospital is a large medical center and teaching hospital, so I expected there to be residents and medical students. What I didn't expect was the number of different attendings that would be involved in my care, and my resulting confusion...I needed a medical point person. With so many physicians coming to see me every day, I started to ask them each, “Who's my quarterback?" Interestingly, there wasn't one answer. Most said it was the hospitalist, but two of the hospitalists said it was my surgeon.
Here are a few highlight experiences:
1- Every time I met a new hospitalist, I had to tell them my long and complicated medical history...including my stage 4 cancer diagnosis, hip replacement, femur fracture, and multiple complications. Each hospitalist seemed to know some parts of my history, but none knew my whole story. I wanted to trust that they had each read my chart, but it didn't seem like it.
2- Although I only dealt with one attending surgeon at a time, there were 4 orthopedic surgery residents that I saw. Of the groups of doctors, this sub-team seemed to have the best communication between each other and with me. But, there was confusion about which analgesic medications I should be taking since a few of them wrote orders for different pain meds. In total, I was offered 6 analgesics: Norco, acetaminophen, oxycodone, tramadol, gabapentin, and Celebrex. If I was inclined to do so, I could have taken all of them. (Any questions why we have an opioid problem in this country?) Not knowing which painkiller was the best for me, I asked to speak to a Pharm D., who came to see me after she had reviewed my chart and pain scores. I told her I would ideally like to be on a non-narcotic agent that would treat mild to moderate pain. After a long discussion and based on the type of pain I was experiencing, we settled on gabapentin and tramadol, (a milder narcotic.) I took the reins on this one.
3- A day or two after my 3rd surgery, a nurse came into my room with an arm-load of IV supplies. She told me that Dr. ??? (I didn't catch the name) called in an order for an IV medication and she was there to start it. I told her that there must be some mistake because I've never seen Dr. ???. The nurse told me that Dr. ??? was an infectious disease specialist. I clarified that I had never met Dr. ??? and would never agree to an IV medication ordered by a doctor who had never examined me nor spoken to me. The nurse paused, stared at me for a moment, then turned and walked out of my room with her armload of IV supplies. Several hours later Dr. ??? came to my room, introduced herself and explained the need to start the IV medication. With this discussion, I understood the need, and it was started.
4- I'm on 7 medications now and when I was in the hospital, I was on a few more. I became concerned about the interactive effects of being on multiple medications. I Googled "drug interactions" and there are several helpful resources. Input your medications and they give very important information about the effects of multiple medication use. I encourage everyone to check out their meds. Here's one site:
In theory, the hospitalist, (usually an internal medicine physician), coordinates an in-patient's care. In my experience, because a different hospitalist came to see me on most days, the care felt very fragmented. In a move of necessity, I became my own quarterback. I got a notebook and wrote down everything...medications I took and the time I took them, the names of the physicians who came to see me and what they said, when I went to physical and occupational therapies, my vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature), and how I felt that day. This detailed log turned out to be very helpful to me and my doctors. Some, rather than reading my chart would ask me their question, I would reference my notes, and decisions were made. I will always bring a notebook to any planned in-patient stay I may have in the future.
Medical care has become very specialized...so specialized that specialists don't always seem to have the ability or time to see the big picture of the patient. Additionally, in my experience, hospitalists are spread thin and were not able to make me feel assured that they were coordinating my care. So I say,
"BE YOUR OWN QUARTERBACK!"