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Dr. Carolyn McClain

Who better to tell you how to advocate for yourself in today’s medical system than a doctor who talks to patients all day long? Dr. Carolyn McClain, Medical Director of the new Sollis branch in San Francisco, weighs in on how to navigate the emergency room, the best way to communicate with your provider, and how she feels about helping people with chronic pain: it’s a privilege and an inspiration.
by Sollis Health

What inspired you to join Sollis?

As an Emergency Physician, there is an extraordinary amount of pressure to see patients as fast as you can in order to turn over the exam rooms as quickly as possible. As a result, a number of clinical studies have shown that most patients don’t have any idea what tests were performed in the Emergency Department, the results of those tests, or are even aware of what their diagnoses mean or how to best care for themselves. Sollis is the opposite. At Sollis, we don’t rush our physicians, and we set an expectation that our members will have as much time as they need with their physician and will leave the clinic fully understanding their test results and the next steps they need to take to get better. Sollis also offers a whole team dedicated to making sure that after diagnosis in the clinic, the members get the follow up care they need and are available for any further questions. It is a privilege to work for a company that gives their providers the time and tools they need to offer the best ER care in the country.

How does it feel to help someone with a chronic condition by diagnosing them and getting them treatment? Conversely, what is it like if you have trouble pinpointing the root of an issue?

Chronic conditions can take a long time to diagnose and often require multiple trips to the physician’s office or ER before a clear diagnosis is made. This is incredibly frustrating to patients who know that something is wrong but feel they are not being taken seriously. At Sollis, our value as ER physicians is that we have the time to listen to the member’s story and help guide them towards the next step. I try to give members a road map to help them understand it may take several different specialists, appointments, or tests to get to the root of the problem—but there will be an answer. Sollis also has the benefit of offering virtual visits and care coordination so the member can feel they are not on this journey alone.

“Working in the ER, we see a side of humanity most people hide. Dealing with a health condition that may never go away requires strength and self reflection, and those qualities should be celebrated, not stigmatized.”

In what ways can Sollis help people who are struggling with a chronic condition?

Even when perfectly managed, chronic conditions will often end up in the emergency room. For example, members who have severe migraines may be able to manage 95% of them at home in conjunction with their primary doctor or neurologist, but there are times when home management will not be enough. Knowing you are going to a Sollis Emergency Room—that will see you right away, is aware of your treatment plans with your specialists, and will coordinate ongoing care—will help prevent the condition from worsening.

What about people who don’t have access to Sollis? How can they best advocate for themselves, especially in an emergency room?

The best thing anyone can do when going to an Emergency Department is to bring a friend or family member to advocate for you. When you are sick, it is hard to know the right questions to ask and often patients are distracted by fear or pain. If you have an advocate with you, they can help guide the conversation with the doctor, make sure all your questions are answered, and allow you to focus on getting better.

As someone who’s constantly talking to patients, what is music to your ears in terms of the way they communicate what they’re experiencing? What’s the most effective language they should use, should they bring journal entries, etc?

Patients will get the best care when they are completely transparent about their health. I had a 23-year-old who presented to the Emergency Department with stomach pain. She had been to multiple Emergency Departments over the past few years with the same complaint. After examining her and listening to her story, we eventually got to the root of the problem: she sheepishly admitted she liked to eat the hair off her hair brushes and she was terrified she was going to develop a blockage that would kill her. Although this was hard for her to admit, it is actually a common problem and one that we were equipped to help her with. I was able to call a gastroenterologist and we were able to remove the hair, and even more importantly why she had this urge to eat hair. It was hard for her to be honest with me but if she had not been transparent, it would have been another trip to the Emergency Department without any answers.

“The best thing anyone can do when going to an Emergency Department is to bring a friend or family member to advocate for you. Often patients are distracted by fear or pain. If you have an advocate with you, they can help guide the conversation with the doctor.”

What should a patient do if they’re trying their best to communicate with their practitioners and still don’t feel seen or heard? Patients often hesitate to switch providers.

We often seek medical care when we are at our most vulnerable. The most important role of any medical provider is to respect that vulnerability and see the person behind the illness. If you feel you are not being heard, you need to switch providers. Sollis has a deep bench of referral partners and we can help you find someone who will give your medical needs the respect they deserve.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about diagnosing chronic conditions, and is there anything you wish you could help people understand better?

Chronic conditions often take a long time to diagnose. This is frustrating as a patient and as a provider, but it is critical to get as much information as possible before settling on a diagnosis. Sometimes this means you will need to see a number of different specialists prior to diagnosis. Sollis can help by connecting you with specialists and a primary care provider who can help manage your symptoms during this journey.

What advice do you have for someone who might be suffering from a chronic condition and feeling stigmatized, ignored, or just flat-out ashamed?

Working in the ER, we see a side of humanity that most people hide. I have had the privilege of meeting patients that face excruciating chronic pain that makes it difficult to sleep, patients with ALS that can no longer swallow, patients that have had amputations and have had to learn how to walk again. And yet, they go to the grocery store, they raise their children, they go to work despite their challenges. These interactions are inspiring. My advice would be to remember that dealing with a health condition that may never go away requires strength and self reflection and those qualities should be celebrated and not stigmatized.
The views and opinions expressed in this campaign are those of the participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sollis Health.
Sollis Health is a 24/7 doctor, private ER and concierge service rolled into one. Whether it’s an emergency or simply to diagnose the symptoms that you typically Google in the middle of the night, our emergency-trained doctors are ready for anything. Interested in becoming a Sollis member?

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