Patient empowerment is putting the patient back in the driver’s seat. It’s making you their medical expert but helping them feel like they are in control. It’s what a lot of psychotherapy is designed to do. And yet in western medicine, our patient-doctor relationship often creates a power dynamic that achieves the exact opposite.
Empowering the Patient
I want to empower the patient because I want them to be in charge of their body and their health. I want them to be able to make their own health decisions instead of riding on my shoulders.
The empowered patient is likely going to look within themselves if they experience any friction during the visit. Instead of looking to blame me or my medical assistant, they’ll reflect on their own piece in that puzzle.
That’s what a patient-doctor relationship is, a relationship with multiple factors involved. I don’t want that patient to be dependent on me. I want them to feel as though they are in control and that their actions matter.
The Empowered Patient
The empowered patient will likely try to self-diagnose their condition and try a few things at home before coming to me. This makes my life easier because it’ll make diagnosing more straightforward.
This empowerment also prevents frustration during a complicated workup or recovery process. They’ll have setbacks and many follow-up visits but because they don’t feel fully dependent on me they can decide how to handle their care.
It’s giving the patient autonomy and knowledge in their health journey. For some patients it’s just managing hypertension, for another, it’s a complicated orthopedic rehab process, and for others chemotherapy.
The Modern Patient-Doctor Relationship
The modern patient-doctor relationship, which is what we have been breeding into healthcare for the past few decades, has resulted in a my-fault, your-fault situation. This has resulted in lawsuits, medical board complaints, negative online reviews, and distrust in western medicine.
How did we get here? The patient intends to be healthier, suffer less, and feel better. The doctor wants to heal, support, and help their patients. You would think that the incentives are fully aligned.
But it’s not the patient who is dealing with the doctor. There is no such thing anymore as a pure patient and doctor relationship. The doctor answers to medical boards and lawyers and the patient pays the insurance company for their services.
It’s sterile, sure. It’s easier to regulate, yes. But it’s a dissatisfier for everyone but the profit-driven healthcare corporations. Patients aren’t owning their healthcare journey and physicians feel more and more responsible for whatever the patient does.
Dealing with the Empowered Patient
So now, you’re the doctor and you gotta deal with this empowered person – it won’t be easy. We are used to the yes sir, yes ma’am approach in healthcare. Of me being the voice of authority and the patient the layperson who should follow my command.
This newly reinvented patient has a sense of autonomy and will ask a lot of questions. They express their emotions during office visits and cast a healthy doubt on your management if necessary.
Such a patient will hold you accountable for your part of the deal. They are using you as the healthcare expert and expect you to have more knowledge and compassion than they do.
But they won’t have unrealistic expectations. They are less likely to sue you and if the treatment doesn’t have the desired outcome they’ll sit down with you and work through a new plan.
Why It Matters to Me
I can’t do this current model anymore. I can’t, as a physician, go to another clinic and deal with unrealistic patient expectations. I can’t work in perpetual fear of a lawsuit. And it’s not possible for me to feel like I’m making a positive difference.
My hypothesis is that there are patients and clinicians who want to get back to the pure essence of healthcare. The doctor wants to offer their medical expertise and the patient wants to feel like they have some control over their health.
I won’t be able to redefine or reinvent the patient-doctor relationship working for a large medical group. If I want to enjoy something that doesn’t exist in the mainstream system I need to exit the current model and enter my own.
A private medical practice is probably where I’ll be able to get close to this ideal patient-doctor relationship. If I want to care about patients in a genuine manner I’ll have to create that model from scratch.
If I see a patient and start the conversation off discussing their insurance, payment, and legal formalities I won’t connect with the patient. Getting vitals and putting the patient in a sterile medical office will not get me anywhere near what I’m hoping to achieve.