Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dr. Patient

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With the healthcare system moving slowly but surely towards patient empowerment and patient-centric care, there is a shift in expertise and a shift in familiarity of patient care. Especially prominent with chronic disease patients, we are beginning to have the conversation regarding patients as experts in their care and physicians as team members and experts in conditions. Chronic disease patients are such frequent flyers of the healthcare system, that it becomes a necessity for them to be self-advocates of their own health management and treatment plans. 

As an ePatient who fights multiple chronic diseases, I see this shift first hand. Not only is this shift essential to encouraging proper patient care, but there is also much more work to be done. We are beginning to have these conversations about patient empowerment, but we are still many, many steps away from implementation and compliance. This issue is a systemic problem, and has to have a systemic solution. Patients, nurses, physicians, hospitals, insurance companies, caregivers, researchers: we all play a role, and that role is arguably equally essential and powerful. 

I won't begin to speak for clinical experts and researchers, or for caregivers, but I believe that I can accurately speak for patients. Patients are experts. The sooner we acknowledge that fact, the sooner progress and proper care can be made. The individuals who make up a care team are intelligent, qualified, experts in conditions and diseases, certified to treat and diagnose, and more. But the patients? Those are the experts. My physicians might be experts in disease and treatment plans. Nevertheless, I'm the expert in me. I'm the expert in my body, in my health, in my symptoms, in my day to day disease and pain management.

For example, when I first met my new neurologist last year, he was particularly blown away at the extent at which I could speak on my conditions, symptoms, and treatment options. Personally, I'm aggressive and fully committed to the best quality of life and disease management that I can possibly attain. Because of that mindset, I question everything. I'm probably my doctor's worst nightmare! But I know that it is my healthcare, my quality of life, and my responsibility to fight for that. My neurologist quickly noticed these traits of mine and made an interesting, but summarizing comment: "Kristin, you know more about your conditions and have a more well-rounded understanding and knowledge than most physicians. You're a true Dr. Patient."

I'm a Dr. Patient. We're all Dr. Patients if we make the effort to be and if we have a care team that allows us to be that expert.

So how can you become this empowered patient, this Dr. Patient? Talk. Ask questions. Research. Society still has a very patriarchical viewpoint of physicians. We treat doctors like "Gods." I'm in no way saying that physicians aren't essential, aren't heroes, aren't lifesavers. They absolutely are. I am beyond grateful for modern medicine and skilled physicians. However, physicians are humans. We're all bound to make mistakes. We're all bound to hit a point where we're unsure of the answers or we doubt what the next move should be. This is not a reflection of physician ability. This is a consequence of being human. Instead of taking every statement and recommendation from your physician at face value, ask why. Why do you believe I need this treatment? What makes you think I have this disease or condition? What should I expect moving forward? Are there any other options we can try?

There is nothing wrong with us asking these questions. The mistakes are made when we don't ask why. Use your physician as a partner. Collaborate on your healthcare. We're humans, not textbooks. Join your doctor and become a Dr. Patient.

About the author: 
Kristin Coppens is a social media and digital communications professional, a health activist, an ePatient, and a multiple chronic diseases fighter and blogger. You can read more about her chronic illness journey on her blog, Chronically Kristin, or follow her on Twitter.
She will also be joining us this year at ePharma as an official guest blogger sharing insights from the event.

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