How to Be an Empowered Patient
Friday, May 25 2012 Natasha Tracy
Have you heard of the e-patient? If not, it’s OK, I hadn’t heard of them up until about a year ago either. And quite frankly, once I did hear the term, no one really explained it to me so I figured it was an “electronic” patient – maybe one who walked around with their health records on a USB stick, or maybe a cyborg patient (in which case, I qualify).
Well, it turns out that there aren’t a lot of cyborg patients and while an e-patient might walk around with their medical records, “e-patient” actually refers to patients who are equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged. And, depending on whom you ask, also educated, expressive, expert and electronic.
That’s a lot of stuff. And quite frankly, way too much pressure, so let’s boil it down – an e-patient is one who’s engaged with their own healthcare, and ideally, we all should be one.
The Empowered Patient
I admit, even the notion of an empowered patient is a scary one. What does that mean, exactly? Patients don’t have the prescription pad, after all.
This is true. Nor do we hold the scalpel, wear the lab coat or collect the blood samples. Seemingly, all these people would have more power than the person on the other end of the hypodermic.
But this actually isn’t true. Actually the patient has all the power. The patient has the power to agree or disagree to treatment.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
But being an e-patient isn’t just about figuring out that you have all the power – it’s also about doing the work that makes that power make sense. That’s when all the “equipped, enabled, engaged, educated” and whatnot come in. There’s no use in having the power if you can’t use it intelligently. There’s no use in refusing a treatment you don’t understand. There’s no use in arguing with a doctor on a point you haven’t researched. There’s no point in seeing a doctor if you’re not going to listen to him anyway.
We all must admit, however, that we are not always in possession of what we need to make the best decision about our own healthcare. Sometimes we are too sick to do it. Sometimes we don’t have time to learn what we need. Sometimes we don’t have the wherewithal to do what needs to be done.
And that’s OK. Part of having the power is knowing when to give it up. It’s about knowing when to let the doctor make the decision for you because you’re just out of your depth. We can’t all be “e” all the time.
But when we can, however, I’d say it’s best to knock off as many of those “e” words are possible. You probably can’t be expected to be the all, all the time, but some of the time, we can be. Here are some small engagements to try:
- Ask more questions – one way to get more educated is to ask your doctor questions about why they are recommending your given treatment, how the treatment works, what the side effects are and so on.
- Understand your treatment – learn about your condition and your treatment
- Share your concerns – the doctor can’t address your concerns if she doesn’t know what they are
- Read accurate health information – look for credibility and references
- Get to know your records – ask for a copy of your medical records and make sure they are accurate
Doing any one of these things can improve your engagement in your own healthcare. You don’t have to do it all, but any part of the “e” can help make you treatment outcome more positive.
If you’re interested in e-patient issues I recommend you check out the Society of Participatory Medicine. I am a member and they work to encourage positive engagement between patients and health professionals.