US Pharm. 2010;35(11):3.

What does patient care really mean? For some doctors, it means performing a thorough examination and rendering a proper diagnosis. For many nurses, it means making patients comfortable and attending to their ailments in a caring, compassionate, and professional manner. For the pharmacist, it might be making sure patients' prescriptions are being filled, dispensed, and administered accurately. But for many patients, patient care may mean something even greater.

With the uncertain economic state of our current health care system, it is very easy for health care professionals to lose sight of what patient care really means to the patient. Pharmacists who work in a very busy prescription department filling prescriptions at a record-setting pace oftentimes never even look up to make eye contact with the patients who are anxiously waiting for their medications. Hospital nurses who work at understaffed nursing stations surrounded by rooms of sick people who seem to be endlessly pushing the call button at their beds for the slightest bit of discomfort could also easily miss the mark when it comes to delivering true patient care. And doctors who scurry from room to room in their private practices often overlook what the patient really needs besides an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

And the really sad thing is that every health professional enters his or her field with the highest regard for patient care. Somewhere along the way, however, the definition gets watered down as overworked professionals simply try to keep from drowning in paperwork and to constantly justify their existence to insurance companies that have somehow turned the tables on the meaning of patient care.

To be fair, I suppose that until you are the patient, the term patient care means little more than something other people require. After writing and reporting on patient care for some 40 years, I recently spent 4 days in a hospital bed following a serious surgical procedure. To me, there is no place like a hospital to fully understand the true meaning of patient care, especially when you are the patient recovering from a serious illness or surgery. Oh sure, patient care is making certain that vital signs are taken regularly and that medications are administered properly, especially when someone is in pain; but for me, patient care goes beyond the professional duties of most health care professionals.

While there is certainly a physical component to being sick, too often patient care is not applied to the emotional state of the person who is suffering from an illness or to that of his or her caretaker. For example, at the retail pharmacy counter there is the anxious struggle of a young mother whose infant is sick and who only wants to get home quickly to tend to her child, or of an elderly sick patient whose strength and stability aren't what they once were. These feelings sometimes go unchecked by the pharmacist who is concentrating only on the next prescription that needs to be filled. And what about the emotions of a patient in a doctor's office who has just received a disturbing diagnosis? For some doctors, the need to move on to the patient in the next room overtakes the need to administer true patient care. And the list unfortunately goes on and on.

I know time is of the essence in the world of medicine today, especially at most retail pharmacies; but the next time you are filling a prescription, take into consideration both the physical condition and the emotional fragility of the patient getting that prescription. Patient care, both physical and emotional, is not a myth; it is real and should be practiced without exception with every patient. There is no medicine or treatment plan that can substitute for some words of kindness from a health care professional to an ailing patient.

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