How patients can be medical educators

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Recently the Mayo Clinic named a patient as a visiting professor for 2015. The patient, Dave deBronkart (otherwise known as “e-Patient Dave”) was chosen by the internal medicine chief residents to fulfill this unique role, where he would have the opportunity to lead grand rounds, give educational talks to medical students, residents and faculty, and truly emphasize the message of patient engagement and empowerment.

So what is an e-Patient? According to e-Patient Dave himself, “An e-patient is someone who is equipped, engaged, empowered and enabled to actively participate in his or her care.” The choice made by the Mayo Clinic residents highlights the increasing importance placed on a union of forces between providers and patients.

In the era of the Internet, it is commonplace for patients to attend their appointments armed with printouts of information regarding their condition. Patients also have a deep personal experience of how their condition has affected them. With this in mind, some patients could become educators who are excellent sources of information for health care students and other patients alike. Blogs such as the one by e-patient Dave are popular with patients experiencing similar illnesses, as they are sources of both medical and quality-of-life information, as well as support.

Patients have always been involved in the training of future doctors, although historically the role has always been a passive one. Increasingly, however, the recognition that patients can be excellent sources of information and advice has resulted in patients being given the role of an educator. The inclusion of patients teaching future physicians means that we can understand the process from the point of view of the patient. We can gain deeper insights into the effect of different disease states on the body, beyond the simplicity of signs and symptoms.

Patient viewpoints may highlight how quality of life is affected, how symptoms may impact activities of daily living, and consequently, how treatment regimens can be tailored to suit the patient, ensuring greater compliance and improved outcomes. In the case of e-Patient Dave, the prognosis for his stage IV renal carcinoma was dire, but his personal incentive to beat the odds meant that he relentlessly researched his condition and — through close discussion with his physicians — designed a unique treatment regimen that allowed him to beat the odds. Patients, with a vested interest in optimizing outcomes and unfettered by dogma, are probably in the ideal situation to find or consider novel approaches to treating disease.

Arshya Vahabzadeh child and adolescent psychiatry resident. This article originally appeared in The American Resident Project.

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