A news story about doctors washing their hands got the attention of Dr. Jon Hallberg recently. Hallberg is a physician of family medicine at the University of Minnesota and medical analyst for All Things Considered on MPR News.
The following is an edited transcript of Hallberg's conversation with Tom Crann of MPR News.
JON HALLBERG: The article is about patients being urged to point out to physicians who are seeing them in hospitals, as an in-patient situation, that if they have not washed their hands, to do so. We've always had this idea of 'wash in, wash out.' We as providers absolutely know this: Before you touch a patient you should wash your hands. When you leave a room you wash your hands. But now it's a groundswell coming from patients.
TOM CRANN: This signifies what? Patients taking charge?
HALLBERG: And not being afraid to point out that something hasn't been done. In the past, with this sort of paternalistic model of medicine, I'm not sure people would feel very comfortable pointing this out to a cadre of physicians who just entered the room wearing white coats: you're lying on your back, you're in the bed, they're looming over you. However, there has been a -- I don't know if it's a softening, exactly -- the playing field is much more level. Because of that, people are feeling much more comfortable saying things to their providers that they might not otherwise have said.
CRANN: Give me some examples of how that's happened for you in the clinic the last few years.
HALLBERG: Patients are coming with a lists of questions and, frankly, a list of demands. It could be anything from a pair of diabetic shoes -- and, frankly, the patient doesn't really meet the criteria for the shoes but insisting that they get them because a friend got them. They want a handicap sticker for their car indicating that they can't walk more than 200 feet without resting, but how do you know that in the clinic setting? We just wrote a letter for someone who needs a dog in their apartment, even though the apartment bans pets, but they need it for companionship. All those kinds of things.
CRANN: Is it good to be challenged by a patient, or at least pushed a little?
HALLBERG: Oh, sure. People should point out things to us. People do need to push back; people are certainly more informed than they've ever been. And I think we have more and more good conversations in the exam room and at the bedside.