Are You An Empowered Patient?
Are you an empowered patient?
I consider myself one and have even made bold claims that teaching people to be empowered patients will solve the majority of problems associated with our current health care systems. Yet every once in a while I find myself considering what the traits of an empowered patient are.
It seems like many people who begin to have symptoms will go to their doctor to explain what they’re experiencing. They’ll describe the symptoms as best they can, then listen and answer as the doctor asks a few questions, then often walk out with a prescription of some sort. There is little discussion about what might be causing the symptoms, and the patient walks out very grateful that the doctor was able to quickly diagnose their condition and prescribe a solution. The patient follows the doctor’s recommendation, giving no further thought to the original condition.
I don’t consider this to be an empowered patient. I consider this to be a patient that has put their doctor on a pedestal and handed over their own power to the doctor as soon as they entered the doctor’s office.
So how would an empowered patient handle things differently? As soon as the symptoms started to show up, an empowered patient would pause and question what was happening. She might start keeping a journal of what was going on in her life. She would keep track of what she was eating, what things seemed different lately, what stresses were happening in her life, and anything else that may seem relevant.
An empowered patient wants to figure out what’s really going on to create the symptoms, what the root causes are. She understands that there are many causes of symptoms and she wants to figure out which ones might apply to her. She accepts that she may have to reach for a prescription or non-prescription medicine in order to deal with the immediate symptoms, yet she will also continue to monitor the situation to ensure that she is not just masking the symptoms. She understands that masking the symptoms may help in the short term, but that this is rarely a long term solution.
She has learned that there are many ways to deal with the root causes of symptoms, especially stress-related ones. She knows that some conditions can be managed herself through techniques such as meditation, mindfulness practice, or EFT. She is also aware that there are many types of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) practitioners available to treat some conditions in complementary and alternative ways.
An empowered patient understands that the practitioners are well educated and experienced in their areas of practice and that they understand the workings of the human body as well as current knowledge provides, but she also understands that there’s a lot that is not known and that not everyone can be treated the same way. What works for some doesn’t work for others, and vice versa. She understands that, while practitioners may know THE body, she knows HER body.
She understands that when she visits a doctor or health care practitioner, she needs to be prepared for a discussion, a problem solving exercise. An empowered patient does NOT aim to diagnose her condition on her own. She understands that she needs help to figure things out, but she also understands that she is the most important person in the room. If she doesn’t understand what she’s hearing, she keeps asking questions. If the recommendation doesn’t feel right, she says so and explains why.
What’s the point? The key traits of an empowered patient are the ability to advocate for themselves, to ask questions until they understand their options including the pros and cons of each, and make a treatment decision based on what makes the most sense for them, at that time. Eventually she comes to a decision of the best way to be treated, the one that works for her for the present circumstances.
So are you an empowered patient? Do you see how empowered patients (and health care practitioners that encourage their patients to become empowered) will heal the healthcare system?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, I’ll share mine next week.
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