September 26, 2016
By Judith Garber
Susan Wright, PhD, from Marin County, CA, (pictured on the right) knows firsthand how important it is for health professionals to listen to patients. Through her own infuriating experience in the health care system, Wright discovered problems with communication between doctors and patients, and recognized the need for more patient advocacy when communication breaks down. For Right Care Action Week, she is encouraging patients to share their stories in a safe space and to join the advocacy effort.
Wright’s health care ordeal began in June 2014, when she woke up with a pounding heartbeat that wouldn’t stop. She knew that something was wrong. But when she went to the emergency room, the concluded that she wasn’t having a heart attack and sent her home. When she returned, insisting that there was a problem, they listened to her — only to discover she had a tumor just below her heart.
For the next three and a half months, Wright was subjected to numerous tests and procedures without her input. Wright frequently told doctors that she had already had a certain treatment and tried to relate important details about her medical history, but her words often fell on deaf ears. To make it through this frustrating situation, Wright used her training and knowledge as a psychotherapist.
“I asked myself, what would you do if a patient was going through this? I’d treat them!” said Wright, “Why aren’t you treating yourself?”
Wright began practicing self-care in the hospital to regain her identity and express her feelings in a healthy and productive way. She translated her anger into action by publishing a self-care guide for patients and creating an advocacy group, Patients for Change. Wright will be representing both the Right Care Alliance and Patients for Change at the Marin County Senior Health Information Fair, an event with an expected attendance of 5,000 people. There will be private listening booths where people can tell their stories to health care professionals and a chance for people to fill out “What Worries You” cards.
Wright envisions a health care system in which patients are seen as individuals and have an equal voice in their care, and where health professionals work together with patients to help them make informed decisions. She hopes the Health Fair will be an opportunity to reach a wide audience and promote right care through patient organizing.
“There are millions of us, but we need to organize,” said Wright. “The way we’re going to reform this dysfunctional system is together!”