Are you engaged?
The era of “the doctor knows best” is over. No more walking into a medical appointment hoping to be told what to do with no questions asked. Do you suppose there’s a reason patients historically agree with a doctor’s recommendations without hesitation? In times of old the following factors may have influenced this attitude:
You knew your doctor and your doctor knew you. Perhaps it was a long-term relationship and they knew your medical history inside and out. They may even have known your whole family. You collaborated for years and were engaged in your care.
Society ingrained in you that it’s inappropriate to question the authority of an expert such as an MD.
Healthcare marketing convinced you that there were quick fixes for virtually anything (a pill for this, a minor surgery for that) and you were too busy or impatient to question. The immediate fix sounded good!
Sadly, these factors lead to poor outcomes meaning you might be one of the many patients who suffer PREVENTABLE harm in the health care system. Unfortunately, this happens A LOT!
In today’s health care system, quality care comes from the patient participating in their care decisions. Care providers guide you, but do not decide for you. Many people don’t know this. They still tremble at the thought of asking questions or speaking up when something seems amiss. A client recently called me to ask if it was alright to switch doctors. He couldn’t understand a word his current doctor said because of a language barrier and he left his appointment not understanding one thing the doctor told him. I find it extraordinary that he needed to ask me if switching doctors was OK. He didn’t realize that doctors are not one-size-fits-all.
You are supposed to ENGAGE in your healthcare. Do you know how? Lack of health literacy can be a serious obstacle to a patient engaging in their own healthcare.
I wonder why many people so readily put their own medical care so wholly in the hands of others. What happened to our innate wisdom? What happened to the “gut instinct”? I am not recommending that you don’t listen to your doctor, on the contrary, I am advocating that you engage in your healthcare. You get curious. You ask questions. You get informed about what the treatment recommendations are. YOU decide what the best course of action is. This was so readily apparent to me in my own experience as a cancer patient. I took my surgeon’s recommendations very seriously, but I also got curious and asked a lot of questions. I did a lot of research and took some time to digest all the information. Then, I knew what to do.
You are supposed to ENGAGE in your healthcare. Do you know how? Lack of health literacy can be a serious obstacle to a patient engaging in their own healthcare. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act defines health literacy as “the degree to which an individual can obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions (CDC, 2019).”
What happened to our innate wisdom? What happened to the “gut instinct”? I am not recommending that you don’t listen to your doctor, on the contrary, I am advocating that you engage in your healthcare. You get curious. You ask questions. You get informed about what the treatment recommendations are.
In the US, health literacy is at an all-time high at 12% (insert sarcasm here). Folks, this is important from an engagement standpoint. The 12% who are health literate know how to read a label on a medication bottle and can briefly tell you what the liver does (which IS basic health information). With such poor health literacy, it’s no wonder we blindly follow the advice from our care providers and rarely take an active interest in our care. Health information can be very complex. A cancer diagnosis alone can leave your head spinning and your ability to understand in the toilet. Trust me, I have been there. I left my doctor’s office after being diagnosed with a rare ovarian cancer in just such a state. How could that be? I have been a nurse for more than twenty years. I have more than 7 years of undergraduate and graduate education in this stuff and I felt completely overwhelmed and lost.
Take a look at these facts:
Nine out of 10 adults struggle to understand and use health information when it is unfamiliar, complex, or jargon-filled (Yikes! Nine out of ten people!).
Limited health literacy costs the healthcare system money and results in higher than necessary morbidity and mortality (mortality is death, people).
On the other hand, good health literacy skills demonstrably improve outcomes. It makes sense, right? If you understand what is happening and you are an informed member of your healthcare team, then you can better advocate for yourself. Like I said before, you get curious, you ask questions, you care less that you might offend a provider by getting a second or even third opinion and you always bring someone with you to a doctor’s appointment. A second set of eyes and ears is a no brainer. I have seen too many poor outcomes in my career because patients simply were not engaged in their care.
The bottom line - health and wellness do not just come from your doctor, they require you feeling empowered to engage so that you and no one else is in charge of your health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). What is Health Literacy? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/learn/index.html