Teenagers who have a say in their healthcare and treatment feel more empowered and are likely to get better quicker.
Over 1.7 million children and young people in the UK go into hospital each year yet not all have an active say in their healthcare. Despite improved children’s rights it’s taking a long time for Britain’s health culture to change and for teenagers to speak out.
According to Bea Teuten, Trust Mediator at Great Ormond Street Hospital it is vital for everyone to feel free to voice their own opinions, to be listened to and be respected by their parents and doctors.
“Whether you’re a day patient or have a long-term illness you should be able to make informed decisions about your health and have some responsibility for it from the start.”
In reality of course you may not feel confident enough to express yourself openly. Going to the doctors or hospital can also be a ‘scary experience’ and you may not feel comfortable sharing your thoughts, concerns and worries with your doctor.
This is particularly true if you are not feeling well enough to make your own decisions or if you feel self-conscious or you are confused by medical language and jargon. You may also feel that your parents are not telling you the whole truth about your condition or treatment perhaps to protect you.
But there are many ways in which you can become more confident to ask direct questions and get the information you deserve.
Bea Teuten’s recommendations
1) Know your rights
Firstly it’s important to know your rights.
Legally children and teenager's rights are protected under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989. This means that every child has the right to life and the best available health care and the right to express their opinions and be heard.
All countries have different policies but in the UK doctors need to obtain your consent in order to treat you if you are able to make competent decisions for yourself. If you are under 16-years-old your parents will be asked to sign a consent form but if you ask you can also sign it with them. Once over the age of 16 you will be asked to sign the consent form yourself. Under-16s can also go to the doctors without parent’s permission. You can’t however refuse treatment recommended by your doctor if your condition is likely to result in death or permanent injury without treatment, or if you are severely disabled or unable to make informed decisions by yourself.
Knowing what you can and can’t do will help you to become more empowered and able to take control of your life.
2) Be prepared and get the facts
Hospitals can be very busy places and you can sometimes feel pressurised to make instant decisions without considering what they might result in. In these situations it’s always best to bring along a set of questions and pen and paper when you visit your local GP or hospital. This way you can ask questions and write down the answers without feeling you are forced to make decisions on the spot.
If you don’t feel you can make a decision there and then, why not try and book another appointment when you’ve had a chance to digest the information? It is important to have some time to reflect if you feel unsure of the facts.
3) Partnership with your parents
Although you may not always agree with your parents that doesn’t mean to say you can’t build a relationship and dialogue with them so you can find out what they are thinking and speak more openly to them about your concerns. If you really don’t understand why they disagree with you about a certain medical treatment then ask them why and you may be surprised by their reasons! Maybe they have some vital information that you don’t know about or perhaps they have your long-term interests at heart.
If however you really don’t agree and communication breaks down completely speak directly to your doctor.
4) Relationships with medical staff
Most medical staff are friendly and approachable but on some occasions it can often be difficult to build a relationship with a doctor in a ten-minute appointment. They may appear brisk or appear like they are not listening. If this is the case then tell them how you feel and try and book more time with them. Or, perhaps build up a relationship with another member of staff who you find it easier to talk to like a nurse or play specialist or someone you see on a regular basis like your physio.
5) Scared or frightened about your treatment?
If you are scared or frightened about a certain test or treatment then ask your doctor or consultant to explain it in more detail. It can sometimes be helpful if you ask the doctor to draw or illustrate with pictures what is going to happen to you. If you are going in for an operation ask the consultant whether you can visit the ward before treatment so you can adjust to your surroundings. Also don’t be afraid to ask what to expect in hospital
and what the food and facilities
are like. In some places you can bring your own food, DVDs, iPods and of course your mobile phone!
In addition, ask your doctor if he can put you in contact with other young people with the same condition as you and who you can talk to in your own time. Certain hospitals also run mentor schemes where you can talk openly to older patients who have gone through the same obstacles and can help you to overcome them.
6) Still not being taken seriously?
Finally, if you still do not feel anyone is taking you seriously then it’s best to get in contact with your hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)
. These are established to help and support patients of all ages who don’t feel their needs are being met by the hospital.
Today’s health care is changing and doctors are now working more closely in partnership with all their patients. In the future there should be more hospitals with dedicated facilities and specialised departments for teenagers and children. So it’s time to get active and feel more involved.