Why Patient Involvement in Their Own Care is Critical

‘Doctor Google’ has been interjecting on doctors’ diagnoses and advice more than ever before. According to MedicalDirector’s 2018 Patient Engagement Survey in partnership with HotDoc, 78 percent of patients research their symptoms online before visiting their GP. Now whilst this comparatively recent phenomenon in patient education can be an empowering aspect to their care, it can be just as disempowering if the patient is prone to anxiety.

The problem with Dr. Google is that it’s all too easy for patients to self-diagnose and then become fearful of a trip to their actual doctor or other health service provider. Then if they do go, they’re concerned that their GP will roll his eyes and be less inclined to take their fears seriously. But if consulting the internet about one’s symptoms is an indicator of anything positive, it’s that this is a patient who is naturally curious and potentially very proactive about their condition.

Meaningful patient participation in their own care offers multiple benefits

It can help them feel heard and validated and therefore more open to recommendations. It can alleviate their concerns, smoothing the way for clear-headed thinking which makes valuable shared decision making in healthcare much easier to achieve. Ultimately, it has the potential to make the job of healthcare providers simpler and perhaps even more gratifying.

  • There are countless different ways a patient can collate information that can be highly useful at appointment time, depending on the condition they are presenting with. Just a few examples include:
  • taking photos of meals and snacks to show examples of portion sizes and diet;
  • taking photos of wounds at various stages of healing or possible infection;
  • photographing moles and freckles at regular intervals;
  • recording blood sugar levels, blood pressure readings and body weight on a regular basis;
  • reporting incidences of vomiting, diarrhoea, fainting, headaches, etc.

Types of content to offer patients

Gone are the days when doctors would make a medical decision and mumble a couple of recommendations. The patient would wander off, bewildered and not really any the wiser, certainly not with a feeling of being fully informed. Today’s patients are far more curious and eager for useful information and they appreciate the opportunity for participation in their healthcare decisions.

If ‘content is king’ in the business world, it’s equally as valid in the healthcare sphere. In fact, patients don’t just appreciate being given a range of content types; they practically count on it. Empowering patients in healthcare is as much about the written word as the spoken word and once they leave the doctor’s office, a tangible reminder can be referred to several times. 

Here are a few examples of materials that healthcare providers can offer, in line with patient preferences:

  • URLs of condition-specific websites;
  • generic and brand names of medications;
  • printed handouts;
  • details of apps that can help manage their condition;
  • names of allied health providers who can assist;
  • recommendations of books to read;
  • outlines of exercises, diets or medicinal treatment plans;
  • written targets to achieve (e.g. weight, water consumption, distance walked per day, etc.)
  • YouTube videos or TV programs to watch.

Involved patients participate more compliantly in their care

When the patient brings this data to their appointment and their healthcare provider commends them for it, they feel more involved in their own care and therefore more invested in a favourable outcome. On the other hand, when patients feel unheard, uninvolved and like a passive onlooker in their own treatment, they are less likely to comply with their doctor’s recommendations. Patient empowerment is as much medicine as the drug names written on a prescription.

Involving patients in their care plan is smart business for you, healthier for them and more beneficial in the grander scheme of the national healthcare system.

If you are not already consciously involving your patients more in their own care, could now be the time? What kind of content give-and-take can you get on board with at your practice to promote patient centered care?