Political correctness’ collateral damage in healthcare

December 11, 2017

In all aspects of healthcare, we must be able to listen to, and keep confidential, anything that a patient shares, in whatever form it comes. By the same token, we must be able to communicate frankly and openly with patients conveying the necessary message.

In all aspects of healthcare, we must be able to listen to, and keep confidential, anything that a patient shares, in whatever form it comes. By the same token, we must be able to communicate frankly and openly with patients conveying the necessary message.

 

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This communication must be open and, ideally, assumed to be free of bias and personal insult, on a professional level. Sometimes a physician must speak to a patient in simple, colloquial or even guttural terms to be understood; there’s the rub.…

On a Saturday afternoon, after my office closed, I received a call from an elderly couple about their medication. The patient’s husband called me to let me know that he couldn’t obtain the patient’s levalbuterol nebulizer solution for her shortness of breath symptom. The patient is 65 years old and has a history of COPD, asthma, obesity, thyroid cancer, hypertension, obesity and poor physical conditioning. I asked for permission to call her pharmacy of choice to try to resolve the problem.


 

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I called the big pharmacy chain and asked to speak with the pharmacist, Lisa. I identified myself and the patient and asked for her understanding of the problem. She said that the Medicare server was down and she couldn’t put the medication through. I asked if she would release a three-day supply of the meds to get the patient through the weekend and retry Medicare on Monday. She said that she can’t break open the box of nebulizer single doses as it was against her pharmacy chain policy. 

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I asked if she was a pharmacist or a slave to her chain pharmacy policy. She then informed me of her definition of a slave and made reference to her personal background, “Slaves aren’t paid. I’m a paid pharmacist who is African-American,” and lectured me on her morals, ethics and that use of the word slave was personal insult to her. I politely allowed her to finish, despite feeling frustrated about her lecture. I told her that I was Jewish and my people were slaves for hundreds of years, long before her people were. I then moved the conversation back to the patient’s urgent medication needs. Fortunately, she also returned to the topic at hand. 

The current fad in the United States is political correctness (PC). It has been promulgated by the national media and federal government in Washington, D.C., by political movements; potentially for use as a weapon for their goals. Political correctness is defined as, “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated,” according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. PC is subject to change and whim. It further limits the capacity and ability for individuals to communicate effectively.

 

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Physicians should be the healthcare leaders, from the exam room to the halls of Congress. Although we should be sensitive to the concerns of others, we must hold steadfast to truth and accurate use of words. John Lydgate said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

We as individuals, patients, physicians, etc., must all be reasonable about our use of speech. We should assume fellow professionals and others have valid information to communicate. The default shouldn’t be assumed to be a personal insult as is the case in a “bad marriage.”

PC is the enemy of a free society and cannot be permitted to interfere in our healthcare or any other aspects of our lives.