Empowering Patients to Understand Their Own Healthcare


Are physicians ready to deem their patients competent to make decisions about their healthcare, and are patients willing to take the responsibility?

The challenge for the patient is to become educated on his or her health issues and treatment options—a daunting task for some patients. The challenge for the provider is to assess the patient’s knowledge level, but if there are deficits, the provider must provide the information at the appropriate literacy level and then assess the patient’s comprehension. This can be a difficult job for physicians because a patient’s anxiety level may impair his or her ability to understand the physician’s explanations or directives. The success of the patient empowerment process depends on the provider’s communication skills and patient’s knowledge or ability to gain knowledge. How does provider must define this new relationship to the patient?

I recently visited with a specialist because, during my annual physical exam, I had a positive pre-screening test for a condition. After we discussed the need for my visit, the physician defined our new relationship by saying, “You are the CEO of your healthcare. You are the final decision maker.” He continued to explain, “I, on the other hand, just serve on your board of directors. I will advise to the best of my ability, give you appropriate options, and you make the decisions.”

Immediately I became an engaged patient, and we became like two lab-coated colleagues, side by side with a common goal looking for the best solution. We reviewed the options for further diagnostic procedures as well as the likelihood that the preliminary screening was a false report. He invited me to review my electronic medical record along with him.

Ultimately I made the choice of following the least invasive and less costly option of doing some repeat pre-screening test followed by an appointment in 6 weeks to review those results. I will have the option at that time to choose another option based on what I know and the information I receive from my Board member. Completely comfortable with his advice and my decision, I left feeling a sense of partnership with my physician.

With every action he took during our visit, the physician skillfully transferred power over my healthcare to me with every action that he took during our visit, and a visit filled with anxiety turned into an exhilarating feeling that I could meet the challenge of managing healthcare and do what is reasonable and necessary without being overly aggressive. I left that office visit newly empowered and looking forward to my new role as CEO.

Admittedly, my medical background made this an easy role for me to assume. Due to age, anxiety, inability to understand, or other factors, many patients cannot assume this role as comfortably as I did. AccessNurse’s patient engagement team speaks with patients every day who have misunderstandings about their disease process and treatment plan following a physician visit. But those patients’ deficits and barriers to learning can be addressed if a caring nurse can meet with them and discuss their conditions in the relaxed environment of their own home.

Our specially trained nurses actually hear the relief in their in their patients’ voices when the patient begins to understand their disease process and how they have the authority to make health decisions and take responsibility for their health. Often with just one phone call, a patient can be on the path to becoming an empowered patient who is prepared and ready to promote his or her health by partnering with a provider.

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