Raising the White Flag on White Coat Syndrome

Prognosis HOPE Revolution - White Coat Syndrome

White Coat Syndrome is described as the phenomenon when people exhibit a blood pressure level above the normal range at their doctor’s office, though they have normal blood pressure readings at home. Some believe that the phenomenon is due to anxiety experienced during their visit in a clinical setting. Yet others believe these elevated readings may actually be a sign of higher risk for future issues with hypertension.

As a Registered Nurse, I think White Coat Syndrome (WCS) goes far beyond just blood pressure related issues. I actually believe it affects much more than this and the impact is felt on both sides of the stethoscope. It is another sign of the bigger barrier all of us are facing today, which is the lack of humanity in our healthcare system.

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When I coach my patients on working through WCS, I start by helping them see their doctor, physician assistant or nurse practitioner first as a human being and second as a clinician. This is the first step in the equation to balancing the playing field. When the clinician is perceived as having all the power it renders the patient powerless and this creates anxiety.

Helping patients raise the white flag and surrender to the idea that their clinician holds all the power is vital to ending this phenomenon. Patients need to know they are ultimately in charge of their health. They need to see clinicians as people educated in the medical field who’s job it is to assist them in making healthcare choices, not dictate those choices.

Clinicians will benefit from this surrender, as well. Instead of being viewed as a dictator who is responsible for all decisions, they will have the opportunity to collaborate with their patients. Many clinicians I know already take this approach. However, it can be difficult to make real progress without an actively participating patient.

Active participation not only benefits the patient, but the clinician involved, as well. Look at this as an action plan between both parties. When patients take the initiative to be active participants and clinicians match that effort amazing outcomes are possible. A motivated and engaged patient can completely change a clinical interaction.

As a patient, attaining this level of engagement is fairly straightforward. Come prepared to address specific issues. Understand your clinician has a limited amount of time to discuss these issues. Try to be succinct with your questions. Focus on one or two of your most important issues. Bombarding your clinician with a slew of problems isn’t effective. Plan to make another appointment to address further problems.

While clinicians need to be open to putting their patients back in the driver’s seat, they also need to foster trusting relationships with them. As clinicians we must understand that our first priority has to be establishing a true human connection with the people we serve. This bond will create the pathway for long lasting partnerships that have the potential to achieve far greater health outcomes.

The bottom line on WCS is that this phenomenon is completely curable. We defeat it by connecting and collaborating. Although our healthcare system is currently broken, that doesn’t mean it has to break us. Together we can succeed in bringing humanity back to healthcare. 

Whether you’re a Care-Giver or Care-Seeker, the current dehumanization in healthcare impacts you. On a daily basis choices are being made without our best interest being considered. Until we return humanity back to healthcare I believe we all will continue to lose.

For Care-Seekers these losses include losing the ability to advocate for themselves and the people they love. They feel like their words often fall on deaf ears. Ultimately, they don’t receive the care of which they are deserving.

Care-Givers are not immune to these losses either. Most of us are in this field because we truly want to make a difference in the lives of the people we are caring for. However, we often find ourselves unable to do this because of the environment we work in.

How can any one of us change this huge dysfunctional animal? The answer is in uniting and standing up for a system that serves all of us better. Together we have the power to demand a change to occur.

The first change is bringing humanity back to Healthcare. Not in the sense that we’ve heard before. Patient centered care is a must, but alone it is not enough. We need care to be centered on BOTH parties in the healthcare equation.

When we place value on Care-Seekers AND Care-Givers true humanity can be restored to healthcare. Add mutually beneficial collaboration to this and the magic starts to happen. Although this method seems very simple, it is powerful and effective at connecting human beings.

One of the best things about restoring humanity to healthcare is the cost. Yes, there will be some time involved to implement this concept and yes, time is money. However, when you compare this to the price tag that dehumanization currently costs all of us, the investment is minimal.

Poor patient outcomes, Care-Giver burnout and employee turnover cost us millions of dollars. Not to mention the emotional toll it takes on both Care-Givers and Care-Seekers. How do we put a price on the unseen damage done to all of us as we attempt to swim upstream in all this disempowered dysfunction?

If we are truly being honest, I don’t think we fully understand how much suffering has been caused by this system that is meant to heal. The more conversations I have with people, the more I hear how both sides are conceding to totally unacceptable conditions. There’s a sort of giving in, in order to not give up.

There has never been more urgency than right now to address this issue. We must take a stand to recapture our humanity and stop the spiral to the complete dehumanization of our healthcare system. We need to start a revolution and the time is NOW!

Angie Felts

Angie Felts is the owner and administrator of Castle Rock Assisted Living & Home Care and the author of Prognosis HOPE. She is passionate about human connection and restoring humanity to healthcare. As a registered nurse with experience in med/surg, mental health, long term care, hospice, assisted living and home care, she understands the challenges we face in healthcare today. For more information about Castle Rock Assisted Living & Home Care please visit www.CastleRockSeniorCare.org

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