EDITORIAL: Annapolis Valley women's advocacy making a difference on the medical front

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Two Kings County women have been instrumental in making a difference in this province’s medical regimes. Tanya Barnett and Robin McGee know the pain personally of being harmed by medical error and they went public for all the right reasons.

Barnett and her husband Phil lost their daughter Jessica in 2007, after her heart condition went undiagnosed. McGee wrote a book about her struggle to get a diagnosis with colorectal cancer. It’s possible provincial online database of serious patient safety incidents that happen in hospitals was prompted by their kind of outspokenness.

Patients in Nova Scotia experienced 27 safety breaches between Jan. 1 and the end of June this year. The list includes taking a breast from the wrong woman, as well as equipment failures.

In a release, Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine said making the information public means “we will all know what's happening in our hospitals, and we can work together to improve patient safety.”

The list is broken into six categories of events, but no details of patient identity or care providers are made available. The idea is to use the information to help prevent similar incidents in the future - a laudable goal.

The health department is also working on a province-wide electronic system for tracking and reporting patient safety incidents. This system is projected to start operating in 2017.

According to the health department, there are about 100,000 in-patient and day-visit surgeries, 665,000 emergency room visits, 100,000 ground- and air-ambulance transports and more than a million diagnostic imaging tests in Nova Scotia each year.

The Barnetts sought closure for their own tragedy for years and part of that process, the Greenwich family has said, was a strong need to be heard by the physicians who might have helped their daughter.

Tanya has devoted herself to advocating for improve patient safety improvements provincially and nationally and informing the public about medical error rates.

McGee didn’t have to endure the symptoms and treatment that impacted her. The Port Williams mother and clinical psychologist was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer after four local physicians mishandled her care for two years. Three of the four were subsequently given official cautions by the province’s College of Physicians. She knew two of them as community members and said she thought they saw her as an individual. One she referred to in her autobiography as “an unblinking reptile.”

While in Halifax having surgery, McGee encountered a level of medical attention and compassion that was lacking for her here in the Valley. One of her responses was to go into crusader mode to ensure a superior chemotherapy treatment became available in Nova Scotia. It was too late for her, but McGee wants others to have the chance to return to being productive, taxpaying citizens. She knows how to be an effective advocate.

The Cancer Olympics is a compellingly written. McGee does not forget that it took 661 days for her to receive a diagnosis rather than the recommended 60 days. Since entering remission, she has been active in patient advocacy, serving as the patient representative on several provincial and national initiatives aimed at improving standards of cancer care.

These two women have said that, most of all, they want physicians to genuinely listen to patients and their loved ones. They want a more collaborative, inclusive medical system to address the current power imbalance between patients and physicians. We applaud them and count this new patient safety listing as a solid step on the way.

 

Organizations: College of Physicians, Cancer Olympics

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Port Williams, Halifax

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