The dawn of a new patient era
Last week I wrote an article inspired by Mighty Casey’s blog post and in response to the very insulting post written by Niam Yaraghi in USA Today. The essence of the article can be summed up by quoting directly from the article:
“Patients are neither qualified nor capable of evaluating the quality of the medical services that they receive. How can a patient, with no medical expertise, know that the treatment option that he received was the best available one?”
As a patient I felt compelled to respond to this incredibly arrogant and derogatory post which paints patients as intellectually challenged when it comes to their health. I have personally experienced the effects of poor judgement from my doctors and the positive response of being an empowered patient – and I am certainly not intellectually challenged when it comes to my health!
I was expecting a few responses from patients to my post but I am positively surprised by the size of the response I have got from other patients. This article has clearly hit a nerve, not just with me, but with patients around the world, and quite rightly so.
For years patients have had to put up with a patriarchal attitude from doctors towards patients. Traditionally a doctors’ word was seen as gospel and patients were deemed uneducated enough to do anything but follow this medical gospel. This attitude still persists, sadly, with some doctors, and clearly also with some academics, despite substantial changes to society and access to health information.
For years we patients had to put up with being misdiagnosed, and having to suffer in silence. Women in particular have born the brunt of negative responses from physicians. A hard working woman (mother, lawyer, etc.) turning up with depression, fatigue and weight gain, for example, has generally automatically been diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressants. No further questions asked, no further tests done, problem solved. Simple. Except many of these women were not suffering from depression and had to subsequently put up with years of ill health – and any queries on this diagnosis put down to “hormones” or “emotions” or indeed “it’s all in your head” (this was the response one endocrinologist gave me). We slaved on – sick, tired, depressed (despite the meds) and made do with being told what to do. Whilst women often bore the brunt of this many men also went through the same thing.
There has however been a big change in our society and healthcare, both from the patient side but also from more enlightened doctors (and academics). The doctor’s word is no longer always seen as gospel – for better or worse. Patients are now querying this gospel, and if they are not satisfied they seek other opinions and find their own answers. Patients are standing up for their own healthcare and becoming empowered enough not to accept this medical gospel. The internet and social media is allowing us patients to do our own research and to become more educated in our own healthcare. While we may not have gone to medical school, and I would never suggest patients are more medically educated than doctors, we are becoming educated enough to be able to enter into a discourse with our doctors and to challenge the old fashioned gospel. We know our own bodies and we know when something is not right.
There is now plenty of evidence of patient’s seeing potentially huge health improvements through their own empowerment and through taking a stand when they feel a doctor’s response may be overlooking a key factor. Doctors, whilst highly educated and trained, are still only human and they are not infallible. Today’s medicine is quite rightly moving towards a dialogue rather than the traditional gospel-like monologue.
After so many years of putting up with false diagnosis, of our queries and opinions being dismissed and of having to make do with sub-optimal health, patients are are naturally becoming more vocal in the healthcare arena. So when an academic comes along and tries to put us back into that old patriarchal system and tries to tell us that we are incapable of evaluating our own healthcare, we are quite naturally angry and upset. Years of not having had a voice has now made us louder and more vocal. We will no longer make do with the medical gospel and we will no longer just accept a doctor’s word, unquestioning, if we continue to experience the same ill health. We will dig deeper, we will look for more information and we will question the medical gospel in order to regain our health. And we will respond when someone questions our ability to understand our own health.
I am proud to be an empowered patient and I am proud to see so many other empowered patients also speak up against this derogatory portrayal of patients as being incapable of making decisions about their own health. I am proud to be part of this revolution in healthcare and to be a witness to the dawn of a new era in our own healthcare.