Sunday, August 31, 2008

A visit to The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

My first visit to Scotland, and Great Britain. It was months ago when I decided to participate in the three-week 'English for Medicine' course offered at the University of Edinburgh's (pronounced 'yeh-dinbra') Institute for Applied Language Studies (IALS), and what made me do so was that I wanted to see the Division of Community Health Sciences and meet a professor named Dr. Raj Bhopal there to seek some advice about how I should pursue my area(s) of interest. Having interest in family medicine and public health with a clinical taste, I also wanted to take a look at how general practitioners (GPs) work and get a general idea of the health care system there.

As in other countries as well, the U.K. has both public and private hospitals, the former of which is run by the National Health Service (NHS), a non-profit organization funded by the government but independent from, paper-wise. Now, in Japan, patients have the freedom to choose the hospital or clinic they wish to visit. Whether it's your local clinic or a university hospital or the cancer center, it is basically up to you to decide where to go, however, this is not the case in Great Britain. If you become ill and wish to see a physician, unless you have a contract with a private health insurance company, which will allow you to have access to a private hospital, there are only two ways you can see a physician: see your GP or end up in the accident and emergency department (A&E). GPs are allotted a certain population in an area, meaning from the patient's point of view, you are automatically determined who your local health care provider is depending on where you live. Only when your health problem cannot be solved at the GP or A&E clinic that you first have the chance to see a specialist, in the form of referrals written by your GP.

A GP has two major roles: an expert in general medicine providing primary medical care, and a gatekeeper of resources. The former role includes not only the clinical part (inside the clinic and also visiting homes), which includes pediatrics, maternal health, referring patients to specialist hospitals, and follow-up of patients with chronic illnesses, but also a variety of other tasks for community health, such as prevention and health promotion, and sex education and family planning. But in reality, most of the GPs in populated areas only have time to do the clinical part, which can be understood from the fact that patients are made to wait an average one week from when you make your phone call to the point of your appointment. No wonder an increasing number of patients, who can afford, are choosing private hospitals. If you're referred to a specialist, it will likely add more weeks or even months to that.

The GPs' latter task, as a gatekeeper of resources, is in two perspectives. A GP has to prevent inappropriate use of treatments and 'control' the patients' demands, thereby saving financial resources, and also guide the patient to the right care they need, as in referring to the appropriate specialist, thereby saving human resources. However, because of this, there are many GPs who face a dilemma, as they are also the closest health care personnel for the patients, and speaking out for them is the basis of a GP's job.

So, when I had an opportunity to follow Dr. William MacNee, a consultant physician and professor of respiratory and environmental medicine at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE), I wanted to focus on not only how he interacts with the patients but also how he communicates, or exchanges information with the patients' GP, system-wise, as good communication is vital between the specialist and the GP as well in a health care system like the U.K. Oh, how do I know him? Well, Dr. Patrick Barron, the passionate professor in charge of the International Medical Communications Center (IMCC) at my university, kindly introduced me to him.

In a typical medical consultation here, the physician only jots down notes, instead of scribbling on the official medical records, which makes reading them a decipherment for others. After the patient leaves the room, the physician will read aloud and record on a tape what he wants written in the official records. The tape will then be duplicated, with one copy going to the patient's GP and the other to the physician's (or the department's) secretary for transcription on to the electronic medical records. The one going to the GP is labeled urgent (red) or not (blue). This system saves a considerable amount of time for the physician, though that means more work and some medical knowledge needed for the secretary.

The RIE is a specialist hospital, so there are no GPs, except for those in the A&E. Tracing its roots back to 1729 as the oldest voluntary hospital in Scotland, it was incorporated into the NHS scheme in 1948, and the current facility, located south-east of the city, was completed in 2003 for 190 million British pounds and boasts 900 beds. Due to its location, it also serves Midlothian and East Lothian. Adjacent to the hospital is the medical school of the University of Edinburgh, which the hospital has maintained close ties with for years. Some noteworthy features of the facility include a 24-hour A&E unit, the Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health, giving birth to 6,000 babies each year (largest in Scotland), and the Scottish Liver Transplant Unit. In the hospital's main hall are banks, eateries, a general store, a bookshop, a barber, and the patients' information center. Brochures and pamphlets covering a variety of topics, from information of diseases to informed consent, or self-help guides, such as how to deal with stress, can be found here and the good thing is all are free for the patient to take home. Very useful and interesting.

Finally, I would like to share some phrases and expressions I heard in the patient-physician interactions, especially from Dr. Gourab Choudhury, who is Dr. MacNee's registrar. I spent the morning following him on the day I was at the RIE. When a patient kept on complaining over and over about how her dyspnea was so severe, he used the phrase "Oh dear." several times. It's sometimes not easy to think about how to react when your patient keeps on complaining, and I thought this was a nice and simple way to express sympathy. Another phrase is "Let's take it on from there.", which he often used when he was finishing up the medical consultation. I often find it difficult to find an appropriate phrase to end the conversation with a patient, but here it is, a simple, convenient expression with a positive-thinking meaning and a touch of sympathy. :-)

1 comment:

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