My patients never cease to amaze me. They watch their diets closely. They follow the latest in health news (including reading my Reality Health Check)—and often ask me about it. And they come to every appointment prepared with questions. I consider most of them to be among the most savvy consumers of health care out there.
They don’t sit back and fall into the trap of being a “sick” person. They do everything in their power to operate from a place of health, not illness. And I admire them for that.
In all my years of practicing medicine, I have learned so much from them. In fact, this kind of patient empowerment is the main reason why I chose to practice nutritional medicine. The power to fight disease and live a longer, healthier life has always been in my patients’ hands. And I enjoy nothing more than helping them discover and use that power.
I mention this because a recent poll of over 1,000 doctors and nurses showed most of them agree patient empowerment is helpful in their practice. It’s a revelation that obviously makes me very happy — but at the same time, also kind of sad.
The happy part of the story should be obvious. In this poll, most practitioners considered patient empowerment to entail asking about the pros and cons of treatment options and drug side effects. And then taking an active role in deciding which treatment is best for them.
Some of them also considered patient empowerment to include patient research, and bringing in information and questions to discuss during the appointment.
This all sounds like empowerment to me — and of course I think it’s helpful. It’s exactly what I encourage my own patients and readers to do. Because who wouldn’t want to work with a patient who is knowledgeable and who challenges you to be the best physician you can be? Why would anyone in the health care industry feel otherwise?
Well, just over half of the doctors polled found patient empowerment helpful, while just over 80 percent of nurses said the same. But that’s pretty much where the good news ends — because there is another, ugly side to this coin.
Like this: Nearly 40 percent of doctors feel that their patients’ research made their job more difficult. And, in fact, 21 percent of doctors characterized patient empowerment as “annoying.” Yes, that’s one in five physicians who find you annoying (about 5 percent of the nurses polled felt the same way.)
Now, we can debate the reasons behind this: whether it’s sexism at play, or a lingering God complex. Or even just the fact that physicians have so little time to spend with patients that treating someone with knowledge can slow your day down. (Nurses tend to have the luxury of spending more time with patients — so I don’t doubt that this factors into it at least a little.)
In fact, both doctors and nurses agreed pretty unanimously that patients bringing materials to discuss with them adds time to a visit. (And all too often in this business, time is money.)
So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there are actually doctors and nurses out there — far too many of them in my humble opinion — who believe that patients shouldn’t be empowered. For these practitioners, I suppose an informed patient is just too much trouble.
I suppose it’s a good thing that they don’t feel most of their patients are empowered, then. At least, not according to the 40 percent of doctors in this poll. And they’re probably right — this is the main reason I left hospital-based medicine for private practice so long ago.
Bottom line? Even if patients bring me biased or straight-up wrong information, it presents a great opportunity to have a real discussion. And to talk to them and educate them as to why their information — whether they heard it from a friend, or more likely, found it on the internet — isn’t necessarily true for them specifically, even while it may be true for others.
As far as I’m concerned, any doctor who thinks these vital conversations are “annoying” doesn’t belong in the business. Because at the end of the day, it’s your health and your life on the line. Your doctor is working for you.
If you bring nothing else, bring that knowledge into the office with you every time… and don’t ever forget it.