Stop Running Away Patients

20x26" e-Patient Poster

Patients fear visiting doctor’s office even when they suspect life-threatening illness.

EPATIENT Why do people avoid doctors? "People who know they have health-endangering vices (like smoking or drinking) put off appointments because they do not want a healthy-living lecture. Others do not go because they feel doomed despite medical treatment. At the other extreme are the overly optimistic who are convinced they will get better no matter what. And then there are those who are embarrassed to discuss their symptoms, such as incontinence or impotence." [1] The common denominator is fear. Fearing potential medical mishandling, obfuscation or confrontation, patients sacrifice the quality of their health care.

Are Doctors Driving Patients Away?

Somewhere along the way, many doctors replaced the bedside manner with statistically significant data. "The prognosis is not good." "Your disease is incurable." "I'm not certain what's wrong with you." "All I can do is give you something for the pain." "I can find nothing medically wrong with you so I am referring you for psychiatric evaluation." These expressions have something in common. They rob patients of hope.

The reason for the dread of doctors, experts say, has much to do with the breakdown of doctor-patient relationships. Few people nowadays have an old-fashioned family practitioner, the physician who is also friend and confidant. [1] Despite the odds, a growing number of patients manage to renew their power to cope.

e‑Patient Dave is a clarion voice for equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged patients. The compelling story of how he overcame medical odds provides a beacon of hope to those ailing around the globe. Booked months in advance for speaking engagements, every breath Dave takes is now a testimony to the power of Participatory Medicine. [2] And he is not alone.

In healthcare, the laity is vanishing.

The overwhelming majority of patients today are becoming involved with some level of research about their symptoms, diagnosis or prescriptions. A 2008 study by Enspektos estimates 10 million patients used mobile phones to look up health or medical information. [3] Those with common chronic ailments find support through physical and virtual communities. In healthcare, the laity is vanishing. Historically, abdication of all medical decisions was beneficial. After all, it's not through casual efforts that physicians affirm their hypocritical oath.

The e‑Patient is Born

Patients want reassurances that they are receiving the best care regardless of geography – particularly when faced with chronic or life-threatening diseases. The year 1998 brought the Patient's Bill of Rights with three major goals [4]:

  1. To help patients feel more confident in U.S. healthcare system; the Bill of Rights:
    * Assures that healthcare system is fair and it works to meet patients' needs
    * Gives patients a way to address any problems they may have
    * Encourages patients to take an active role in staying or getting healthy
  2. To stress the importance of a strong relationship between patients and their healthcare providers
  3. To stress the key role patients play in staying healthy by laying out rights and responsibilities for all patients and healthcare providers

Technology copulated the Bill of Rights, giving birth to e‑Patient.

Not without opposition, through healthcare reform, the revised Patient's Bill of Rights is removing the stigma of pre-existing conditions for U.S. citizens. [5] Advancing technology copulated the Bill of Rights, giving birth to the e‑Patient and Participatory Medicine – "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health, and in which providers encourage and value them as full partners." [6] In 1999, Tom Ferguson, MD, came up with the term “e‑Patients” to describe individuals who are equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged in their health and health care decisions. [7] Empowered through the Internet and other means, more patients are partnering with physicians who support an active role in their healthcare decisions.

Doctors can show support by spelling out e‑Patient policy on their websites and displaying an e‑Patient welcoming poster in waiting rooms. Patients, what's your reason for not visiting the doctor this year?

Tags: e-caregivers, ehealth, entitled, epatients, ipatients, mhealth, support

  1. Major Medical Mystery: Why People Avoid Doctors.
  2. e‑Patient Dave Schedule.
  3. Client Infographic: The Empowered e‑Patient. Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2009, 2010.
  4. Patient's Bill of Rights.
  5. What will health reform mean for you?.
  6. Society for Participatory Medicine.
  7. e‑Patients, Cyberchondriacs, and Why We Should Stop Calling Names.