Can Empowered Patients Heal Healthcare?
In last week’s blog, I shared my thoughts on what constitutes an empowered patient, then asked the following questions. 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?
At the risk of screaming too loudly, here is my overriding thought. The empowered patient is the ONLY thing that will heal the healthcare system. And, more yelling, we need each and every one of us, now more than ever, to become an empowered patient. We don’t need to go in with the goal of healing the healthcare system, we can go in with the goal of taking care of ourselves by simply living happier, healthier lives, and the SIDE EFFECT will be that we will heal the healthcare system.
At the risk of oversimplifying, healthcare systems (while I know Canada’s and the U.S.’s better than most, I understand there are similarities in systems around the world) are inherently set up under the premise of helping people take care of health conditions that arise during their lifetime. The costs associated with the system are usually covered by government health plans, insurance and benefits plans. And there’s a lot of money to be made if you are a provider to the healthcare system. The fundamental problem with many healthcare systems today is that we can no longer afford them as they are currently designed, and the costs are constantly rising. We can’t afford them today, and if we don’t start to get them under control soon, we REALLY won’t be able to afford them in a few short years.
So if that’s the problem, what’s the solution? The simple idea is that this is no different than any money challenge. We have to start spending less money. But what does that mean? Let’s look at the players. To me there are really three players, those being: 1) service providers that receive money from the system – this includes doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical drug companies, insurance companies, etc, 2) funders of the system – this is primarily a government body, and 3) consumers of the system – this is you and me, the patients.
Do service providers want to see less money coming into the system? If there’s less money in the system, then someone within the system is going to be making less money. I have yet to meet the company or individual that is standing up to say they want to make less money. The fundamental point is that there is no real incentive for this group to become involved in solving the problem of the high cost of healthcare.
My belief is that the funders of the healthcare system understand that the problem has to be solved. They understand that spending can’t keep rising out of control. But on one hand, they’ve got Service Providers that need to be paid for their services, and on the other hand they’ve got Consumers that don’t want their basic rights of a healthcare system diminished in any way. Add in the fact that the people within the government are elected officials that arguably have as much interest in getting re-elected as they do in tackling a big problem such as healthcare, and their appetite for taking a bold stand and doing something big becomes significantly smaller. So while there is incentive for this group to solve the problem, they are “in for a fight” no matter what they do.
Consumers, whether they realize it or not, also have a conflict within the healthcare system. On the one hand, they have become used to the concept of having a system that helps manage the risks of poor health and don’t want to lose any of the privileges that go along with that. On the other hand, the costs to maintain these services are out of control. Many of the costs are being pushed down to the Consumer in the form of increased insurance and benefits (medicare, etc.) costs.
I ask you to pause for a second and ask yourself why I would use the term “Consumers” instead of “Patients” or some other word. My thoughts are that we haven’t really been consumers at all. Some people spend more time picking out an outfit for a formal event than they spend at understanding the options available to them for their health. A lot of people simply accept the system for what it is, and follow their doctor’s recommendations right over to the drug store. Using the same analogy, when picking up an outfit for a formal event, would you only go to one store or would you shop around? Do you accept the first outfit that you try on, or do you keep trying things on until you find one that feels right?
So let’s go to this thought of “empowered patients” becoming the Consumer. I personally have created what I call a Healing Manifesto (you can download it here). It contains a list of all of the things that I know of that contribute to my health and happiness. It is my personal plan, setting out guidelines for how I’m going to live my life. It highlights some of the obvious things like diet and exercise, but more importantly it highlights potential stressors and how I choose to deal with them. This is what I prepared for myself in order to become an “empowered patient”.
When I remember to follow my plan (hey, I’m human, I need to kick myself in the butt every once in a while too), I find myself to be just a wee bit more accepting of myself, I can often figure out the root cause of my current predicament, and I find that I spend a lot less time within the healthcare system. And if everyone spent a little less time in the healthcare system, we wouldn’t be in the same position as we are today.
So I ask again. 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 section below.
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