SHE Has a Name and Deserves Respect

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Shirley, my childhood best-friend’s mother, is in her late 80s.  She was quite healthy until a few years ago when she began an ongoing round of very difficult medical problems.  She has had surgery, chemo, myriad tests and treatments…. bottom line, she is sick of being sick, and she’s tired of the “if it isn’t one thing, it’s the next” of her life.

Her daughter has been a stalwart advocate for Shirley, driving 90 minutes each way, week-in and week-out for years. She attends all her mother’s appointments, takes notes, asks questions, fills prescriptions – in short, all those things we do as advocates, which many of us can relate to.

I check in with them both every couple of weeks to see how things are going, to share family stories, to catch up on their lives. One such call happened yesterday…  and yielded a point I knew instantly needed to be shared with you.  One so important, I’ve written about it on my blog, too. Shirley’s report:

“You know – when the doctor is talking, he talks to my daughter – and calls me “She.”  He doesn’t talk to me!  He talks to her, as if I’m not even in the room.”

I can only imagine how insulting this must feel to Shirley – or any patient who is being discussed as if he or she isn’t present.  Further, it’s entirely possible the doctor has no idea how he is coming across to her.

I’m going to guess you have witnessed this, too.  In fact, some of you have done the same thing.  In particular with an elderly person, or a patient with dementia, or certainly a young child, it’s so easy to have a conversation with a spouse or adult child or some other caregiver, and discuss the patient as if he or she isn’t present.

But, when it comes to any adult patient who is conscious and able to comprehend the discussion, it is highly disrespectful.  These patients are not objects to be discussed.  They are living, breathing, intelligent human beings.  You are discussing THEIR bodies, THEIR health, THEIR diagnoses, THEIR treatment needs, THEIR lifestyle changes – and those questions and discussions need to include and embrace them as contributors to the conversation.

My suggestion to Shirley was that she speak up – that she ask a question, or politely remind the doctor that she’s part of the conversation.  Her daughter is not a professional advocate – she’s a daughter.  She wouldn’t know to command respect for her mom.

But you, as a private patient advocate or health navigator can make a conscious effort to include your client in the conversation, whether other participants include providers, or family members or other professional caregivers.  I suspect there might even be a ripple effect – more cooperation, better adherence, improved quality of life.

And while you’re at it?  Don’t call your client HONEY either!) Here’s more about standing up for your patients without upsetting his or her providers: Standing Up for Our Patients – Those Aretha Franklin Moments  

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  1. Teri Dreher  March 4, 2012

    I completely agree! That has happened when I advocate for clients as well, but now I try to plan a little beforehand to avoid that common situation. I go over a list of questions that need to be answered with my client before we go to the MD office and encourage them to start the questions so the doctor begins his focus on the client. I try to be very quiet until the end and mostly ask questions of clarification, making sure my client understands the responses. Also, how you position yourself in the room says alot also. Wether you stand back behind your client or over to the side out of the “inner circle” of communication, always keep your eyes focused on the client and the doctor will do so as well, without even thinking about it. I think of myself like a security blanket for the client and speak up when I need to, but I always want the client to be the center of attention. Just a few things that work for me…

  2. Carolyn Thomas  March 16, 2012

    Hello Trisha
    Just a heads up that I have quoted (and linked to) this post on today’s Heart Sisters article called “Would It Kill You To Treat Your Patients With Respect” at:

    Many thanks,


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