Help build information driven patient behavior

Historically, we’ve often thought of the doctor-patient encounter as something of a silo. Patients come in with symptoms, and the doctor addresses them, perhaps ordering tests or referring the patients down the line of colleagues.

That model inexorably changed with the Internet. Today, patients come to their appointments educated on symptoms, treatments, and even us. They are frequently prepared with research and granular questions. They are engaged with the process, and often hopeful and prepared to work with their health care team as a result.

As physicians, we need to help build this culture of motivated, information-driven patient behavior. In my experience, I’ve overwhelmingly found that knowledgeable patients make for more successful, rewarding appointments and relationships. This is because when patients have skin in the game, they are more likely to listen, comprehend, and stick to a suggested course of treatment.

Much has, of course, been written about what happens when misinformation gets out there. There’s no question the fight to save lives through vaccinations lost precious ground when information erroneously linking autism to inoculation continued to circulate long after the original research had been debunked. Yet cases like this are exactly why I believe that doctors must invest more fully in the process of educating our patients outside of the office, in their public lives.

By this I mean joining the health care leadership ranks on social media, on blogs and in local papers, and at community meetings and gatherings. When the press calls a city mayor trying (commendably) to help people drink less soda one of the year’s lone and foremost wellness voices, we must ask whether we are doing enough to educate and advocate.

Specifically, I would urge us all to begin with prevention. Currently, our medical system does not yet strongly incentivize this, meaning that there’s a real need for authorities with accurate information to get out there and fuel conversations about these issues.

And here’s the core point: Just because you’re not a TV doc or a social media maven doesn’t mean you can’t make a meaningful difference. As a health care professional, you have the opportunity for leadership in your community. Take it. Give a talk at a local school or retirement home; pitch an op-ed to your local paper; add a wellness page to your practice website.

It won’t happen right away, but if we each contribute even a little to the information pool, the needle will shift a little as well. The more this happens, the more office time we are afforded to do what matters most — coming together with our patients to improve health care outcomes, one appointment at a time.

David B. Agus is a professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California. He is the author of The End of Illness and blogs at The Doctor Blog.

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  • rbthe4th2

    ” I’ve overwhelmingly found that knowledgeable patients make for more successful, rewarding appointments and relationships. This is because when patients have skin in the game, they are more likely to listen, comprehend, and stick to a suggested course of treatment.”
    Nope, only in 2 and maybe 3 instances have I had this. The others were negative regarding medical literature I brought in and my questions. Part of this had to do with the fact that I found out pretty quickly who truly knew what they were doing and who wasn’t keeping up. I don’t mind making a couple of mistakes but when they wouldn’t learn from them, you get labeled “difficult” or GOMER goes on your records.
    One of my famous ones was seeing that a nurse only gave me 1/2 of the required dosage of a shot. When she gave me my paper, I said oh hey, this is only half. Can you just give me the other half the shot and mark it and we should be good? Boy did I get laid into. It was so bad that when I, red faced and jaw dropping, walked out of the exam room without seeing a doctor, the doctor who overheard it said ‘you can’t talk to a patient like that’. He didn’t even wait for me to leave, I heard it walking out.
    You are right – the skin in the game is my own. The problem is finding professionals who don’t blow off your questions or drop you or label you difficult because you want to understand, and know that if someone makes a mistake, its ultimately the patient who makes up for it.
    Randy

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