Patient Empowerment Is About To Sweep Healthcare

Power is shifting from institutions to individuals.

Every day, we see another example. Whether it’s people complaining about corporate decisions, weighing in with brands about worker treatment , or overthrowing oppressive governments, the message is the same: personal empowerment is in the air.

Fueled by this mindset and enabled by social media and other technologies, individuals are examining every social institution and demanding that their voices be heard.

And now, patient empowerment in healthcare is about to take center stage.

While politicians and judges wrangle over the details of “Obamacare,” much larger changes are afoot.

For too long, patients have been alone, kept in the dark about their conditions; refused access to their medical records; left with unanswered questions about diagnoses, medications, treatments and prognoses.

But the same social and technological forces that have transformed other institutions have also been at work in healthcare.

There are three major areas of change that have set the stage for patient empowerment.

Information Technology

Computers and smartphones play a large part in practically every area of modern life.

But, healthcare information systems have lagged behind those used in other industries. A small fraction of even the largest hospitals use automated systems to manage clinical and billing transactions. And, over three-quarters of family practitioners and specialists still use paper-based methods for record-keeping.

But this is changing rapidly.

If your family physician isn’t already using an electronic health record (EHR) system to manage your care, expect her to do so within the next year. If your physician already uses an EHR, you may already be experiencing the benefits of having direct access to your own medical information.

This is a trend that is just beginning.

Provider Attitudes

Doctors know that their practices are changing.

Take medications, for example. Even a decade ago, it would be unusual for a patient to ask a physician if a particular drug would help his condition. Today, thanks to pharmaceutical company advertising and the incredible power of word-of-mouth recommendations, every medical practitioner can be certain that patients will be following every ad’s advice and, “ask your doctor if ________ is right for you.”

Like it or not, medical practitioners know that they now need to share information, and decision-making, with their patients. Younger physicians, having grown up around technology, are even more likely to see information-empowered patients as their allies.

This is another trend that will grow rapidly in the next few years.

Social Support

Patients…people like us…found that technology allowed us to turn to one another for answers. More and more of us became comfortable sharing our families’ healthcare stories and learning from others.

PatientsLikeMe.com is one example. The site launched in 2006 as a result of one family’s experiences with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.) It has since grown to over 135,000 members who support one another’s struggles with over 1,000 medical conditions. In this video, site founders Benjamin and Jamie Heywood tell how their brother’s fight with ALS led them to create a community where people could find information and support one another.

PatientCommando is another example of this movement. The site encourages public figures and ordinary people to “share the patient perspective” as a way to engage both patients and providers. In a recent story, a physician tells of collapsing during a jog, finding herself in an emergency room, and experiencing a unique realization: “I wasn’t a doctor anymore. I was a patient.”

These three trends make one thing very clear: patient empowerment is about to sweep healthcare.

This movement is not without challenges. Finding trusted sources, separating facts from quackery, avoiding scams, balancing privacy concerns with sharing. All of these and more will arise as we learn to navigate the 21st century healthcare environment.

But, one thing is certain. Medicine will never be the same.

Tell us your stories. Have you used social technology as a part of your family’s healthcare? Do you currently have an EHR? Do your healthcare providers use electronic communication tools? What other examples of the patient empowerment movement are you seeing?

One Response to Patient Empowerment Is About To Sweep Healthcare

  1. Tomek says:

    While I commend the recnet efforts of CAMI, MedIC, NVCA, and numerous others, we would be well-served to also heed the advice in Josh Lerner’s recnet book Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Policymakers and industry leaders must apply key lessons-learned from past mistakes to avoid waste, disappointment and the long-term consequences of adopting flawed policies and initiatives that fall way short in their ability to stimulate a hospitable and SUSTAINABLE entrepeneurial climate.

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