Giving Patients Their Dignity Back

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Published on LinkedIn. September 19, 2018.

Anyone who has worked in a hospital can attest: you build an immunity to seeing all parts of the human body. It is an odd feeling, knowing that in your line of work you are exposed to seeing the personal, ahem, artifacts of patients you encounter and it is just considered ‘normal’ and ‘part of the job’. It has made me wonder, “is it really necessary?”. People laugh at get well cards featuring and old man walking down a hospital corridor with the backside of his hospital gown opened up. Those cards are funny because there is such truth to them. Modesty and dignity are two things patients have to sacrifice when being hospitalized. They go to the bathroom on a bedside commode where a total stranger sleeps on the other side of the curtain, or get prepped for surgery lying completely naked on the table in an open room. Why? I once overheard a surgeon say to the surgical team “we’re in the hospital, there is no such thing as modesty”… I beg to differ.

Modesty and dignity are two very generous gifts we can provide our patients.

It may be time to throw away the “what if” scenarios and let our patients cover up like they do anywhere else. Here’s where we can start to return modesty and dignity to patients and to make their a little experience better:

1. Close the damn curtains, even if just for a conversation. It at least shows the patient you are considerate of their privacy needs and though they are not sound proof, you are doing what you can to ensure confidentiality.

2. Let them wear (under)pants unless it is absolutely necessary to have them removed

3. Allow patients to wear their own clothing as much and for as long as possible. If the gown isn’t necessary, let them change

4. In procedural areas or during an examination, assure that only those staff members directly involved the patient’s care are in view. This means closing doors, curtains, or blinds until the patient is fully covered and skin exposure is at a minimum. When private areas must be exposed, keep barriers closed to avoid wandering eyes catching a glimpse. During a physical exam, ask family and friends to leave (but welcome them to stay if the patient insists).

5. When patients are physically able, allow them to walk themselves. Yes, even in the OR. Give them shoe covers or no-slip socks if necessary.