Preserving a Patient’s Dignity: The Greatest Gift

Never take a person’s dignity. It is worth everything to them and nothing to you. Frank Barron

The loss of bodily function, weakness, disfigurement, and other limitations caused by aging or an illness can negatively affect the way patients feel about themselves. Because of these changes, they begin to think that they're not respectable. Getting medical attention, for example, becomes an embarrassing experience for patients as they are routinely stripped, prodded, questioned, and photographed.

Such uncomfortable situations threaten a patient's dignity, and this is a matter of concern because dignity is considered a basic human need. Patient or not, everyone would like their dignity preserved until the very end of life. As caregivers, we give them this gift because it is the only thing that should remain even if a disease takes away their health and their life.

As a caregiver, you play a crucial role in making sure that the patient is respected in every aspect of care. Preserving the patient's dignity should be one of your primary goals. You can do this in four ways:

1. Provide care with sincerity.

Patients know if you only see them as merely a pile of tasks that need to be done. If you become task-focused instead of patient-oriented, you hurt the patient's pride and self-esteem. As a consequence, they tend to be uncooperative.

To show that you are sincere, you must establish a meaningful connection with your patient through intent listening. When you acknowledge what the patient is telling you, they feel important. When you engage them in conversations, they'll regard you as someone who truly wants to help.

You must also get to know the patient beyond what their chart says. Smile more and give reassurances, and it’ll make a big difference in the way that they’ll respond to your care.

Another way of showing sincerity is by providing for the patient’s needs in the best way possible. When the patient sees that you are working hard to help them, they feel happy and satisfied.

2. Show respect.

Respect is the core value of patient care. It's not something that you do only if you feel like it. And it's not something that you can take for granted if you're tired or stressed.

One way of showing respect to preserve a patient’s dignity is by accepting your patients unconditionally and without judgment. Treat everyone equally – rich or poor, black or white, Hispanic or Asian, educated or not.

Do not forget basic courtesies, too. Greet the patient properly. Ask permission or knock before entering the room. Call the patient by their preferred name.

3. Protect their privacy.

Privacy and confidentiality are crucial aspects of a patient's dignity, and this is the reason why the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was established. By law, you are required to understand and be compliant with HIPAA rules and regulations.

As a rule of thumb, any information regarding the patient, and even the details that they shared with you, must be handled with strict confidentiality. Never talk about the patient with anyone unless with the healthcare team.

Also, avoid putting a patient in an embarrassing situation, such as undressing them without closing the door or taking a photograph of them without their knowledge.

4. Promote independence.

Independence is another essence of a person’s dignity. For patients, being able to do things on their own amidst their health problems can mean a lot and will make them feel good about themselves.

Encourage the patient to be independent, provide assistive tools, such as walkers, reachers, buttoning aid hooks, and the like. These devices can help them carry out activities of daily living independently. You may also let your patient perform procedures for as long as they are able but then be ready to finish the task once they are too weak to complete it.

Another great way to promote independence while showing respect is by offering choices. Giving your patient the freedom to choose means that you value their judgment and that what they think matters.

Dignity is a basic human right. It is fundamental to the well-being of every person irrespective of their health condition. Caregivers have a professional duty to respect patients' dignity.