A Personal Reflection on Our Health Care System

Pharmacy Times, January 2016 The Aging Population, Volume 82, Issue 1

As pharmacists, we should feel privileged to be able to contribute to the health of others.

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience the health care system as a patient. My experience was centered around my left total knee replacement this past fall. Six weeks after surgery, my orthopedic surgeon released me to assume my normal activities. I want to share some reflections on this experience as a way of saying thank you to many. I also hope to challenge you in your role as a provider.

I was surprised to learn that more than 670,000 total knee replacements are performed annually in the United States, most of which are to treat arthritis, which deteriorates cartilage in the joints. That was my diagnosis. I was able to delay the surgery for several years by using joint-lubricating injections, but they became less effective, resulting in the need for surgery. I join many who wonder why they didn’t get the procedure done sooner, but the literature suggests that the right choice is different for each patient, depending on the patient’s goals, overall health, and desire to have surgery.

Surgery can cause complications. I developed a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) after my surgery. I had a previous diagnosis of a clotting abnormality, so I wondered if my anticoagulation could have been better managed to prevent the DVT. If I have my other knee done, I plan to have an anticoagulation expert oversee my care. Fortunately, my DVT treatment was successful and I have had no residual effects, perhaps because of the body’s innate healing capabilities and the benefit of appropriate drug therapy. I share this part of my story to encourage anyone who becomes a patient. Recovery does happen, although it may be slower as you age.

I also want to share 2 observations about our health care system. It may need improvement, but it worked for me, and I am thankful for my outcome. During my several months of care, I met with many health care professionals who showed me they cared about my situation, treated me with respect, and provided the care I needed. For most of these interactions, I did not have a previous relationship with the provider, but a relationship was established immediately until another provider took over. The quality of many health care professionals is what makes our health care system outstanding. As pharmacists, we are part of this cadre, and we should feel privileged to be able to contribute to the health of others in such a special way.

At times I felt alone in my recovery, until I found a virtual group of patients who had experienced knee surgery. I found this group when I tweeted about my surgery. If interested, see @mykneeguide on Twitter. I received answers to my questions about my symptoms, much encouragement to persevere through the difficulties, and assurance that my problems were common. My virtual support group of fellow patients turned out to be an important part of my recovery, so I thank them all.

Pharmacists can play an important role in a patient’s life. Many of the health care professionals who took care of me were just doing their job. They probably didn’t even realize the important contribution they were making in my life. Yes, being a health care professional is a privilege.