Health Care Tunnel Vision

Patient voice plays an integral role in the advancement of clinical practice. I engage in conversations every chance I get regarding pelvic organ prolapse; opportunities to discuss a health topic that has been shrouded in secrecy for thousands of years’ present avenues to encourage disclosure. As an advocate who guides women toward healthcare professionals for both surgical and nonsurgical treatment of POP, I encourage women to disclose symptoms and concerns that are often embarrassing to discuss. I feel strongly that we need to get past the discomfort zone and recognize that at its most basic level, pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a health condition that is treatable, not an issue that needs to be hidden away behind closed doors.

The problem with tunnel vision is we lose sight of valuable perceptions outside the tunnel.

POP in general is a common, cryptic health concern considered “not that big of a deal” by some members of the medical community. I’m here to tell you it is a big deal. Every day I communicate with women in one of the various stages of this multi-faceted health condition. Every day I assure women that there are treatment options that can return their lives to balance. Every day I let women know they are not alone, that millions of other women are experiencing the same frustration the symptoms of POP generate. As a pelvic floor health advocate, I’d like to encourage health care professionals who view POP as “not that big of a deal” to truly listen to their patients. And as a woman who has been surgically treated for POP and continues to do the right stuff to maintain pelvic floor ballast post-surgery, I am hopeful at some point that all patients and health care professionals will be able to meet in the middle for the optimal balance of pelvic floor health care treatment. As of right now, we have a long journey ahead of us.

The health care community obviously must base treatment on curriculum provided in medical school, but too often insufficient emphasis is placed on listening to patient feedback. But as is true with so many health conditions, the problem is educators and books have not experienced pelvic organ prolapse. Women with pelvic organ prolapse simply want their clinicians to listen to them-to believe them-to treat them with the same respect we give our health care providers even if what we are disclosing to them flies in the face of what their education has taught them about pelvic organ prolapse. We need health care providers to see beyond the immediate tunnel.

The message is pretty simple-we ask that clinicians who treat POP to believe patients when we tell them about pain, about pelvic pressure and discomfort, about the loss of intimacy that is so frustrating, and that POP invades the normalcy of our lives in a big way. The message to women is also pretty simple-hold your heads high, disclose your symptoms in entirety, insist on your healthcare professional spending the time due you to discuss your treatment options. It is vital to remember that at their core, healthcare professionals are human, have good days and bad just like us, are incredibly busy treating a multitude of patients, and sometimes get stuck in tunnel vision, treating all patients with pelvic organ prolapse the same when needs are so unique woman to woman.

Patients and practitioners together will generate recognition of the reality of pelvic organ prolapse. Time and experience are incredible educators.