Once upon a time, the doctor/patient story centered on two stock characters: the venerated, trusted doctor, and the more or less passive patient. The doctor could be friendly and comforting, or aloof and clinical, but he or she called the shots; a patient might be a “good patient” or a “bad patient,” indicating how well he or she followed doctors' orders. As a patient, you went to your doctor (or specialist), he or she arrived at a diagnosis, you left the office with a prescription and/or a treatment plan, and you went on your way. It was a one-way conversation, not a dialogue: you listened, obeyed, and (hopefully) got better. The end.
The educated, empowered patient
Today, what it means to be a “good patient” has changed drastically from 20—even 10—years ago. The empowered patient is today’s patient. The dialogue between doctor and patient is a two-way conversation in which the patient is more prepared than ever to take an active role in treatment choices. Today’s “good patient” tackles their next doctor’s appointment with all kinds of questions and even some suggestions to help arrive at a treatment plan. This patient sees their healthcare as being in their own hands. To be sure, the doctor is still expected to occupy the role of expert. But this credential must be earned, proven even. Our patient of the 21st century is now accountable for their own health and an advocate for it. Of course, this has not been a complete transformation, but it is the direction healthcare is heading. Fast. And we don’t have to think very hard about what’s driving this change.
Technology, heal thyself
Technology is the enabler and provider of educational platforms and tools that help build knowledge and confidence for the patient. The top five online health resources are Yahoo Health, NIH.gov (National Institutes of Health), WebMD.com, MedicineNet.com, and MayoClinic.com, where you not only have the ability to read articles and ask questions virtually, you can also watch videos that showcase other patient health stories as well as watch programs.
With Yahoo Health you can turn to “The Checkup With Dr. Travis Stork" where various health issues are addressed in each episode. The NIH is more clinically based and a great resource not only for physicians but also for patients who might like to delve into the science of health. WebMD is a bit like the Cosmo of health sites; it’s about better health information and it does a very nice job of appealing to a wide range of patient audiences. It’s a health news platform that’s easy to read and intuitive to navigate. MedicineNet.com brings doctors’ knowledge to the patient. Mayoclinic.com is an academic platform for both physicians and patients that covers a broad range of diseases and offers content accordingly. All these sites foster real partnership between patients and their doctors.
Today, you can be in the waiting room and review content on your mobile device, which helps facilitate a very productive doctor’s visit. Just one more way a patient can take a bit of the control out of the doctor’s hands.
The virtual follow-up
Technology’s influence is, of course, having a huge impact on the doctor side of the doctor/patient relationship. More than ever, doctors face big time constraints, as evidenced by the typical eight-minute office visit. Technology offers the possibility to do supplemental follow-ups via e-mail or phone call. This little bit of time and outward demonstration can give patients confidence and trust that their doctor cares about them beyond their health outcome. It also can lead to healthier patients.
As in any true relationship, patients who participate more actively with their doctors should expect ups and downs in the process. Often the deciding factor will be the quality of communication. Go into your doctor visit with a proactive plan ready to discuss your condition, but understand that you must first establish trust and partnership. This is not always easy but it is essential. It’s scary enough to have something wrong with you, so being surrounded by understanding is critical to getting back to health. And nothing undermines understanding between two people faster than not listening.
As patients learn to embrace their new role as health advocate, doctors are hopefully doing the same.
Here are the top five healthcare sites for patients as measured by monthly unique visitors:
1. Yahoo Health = 21.5 million
2. NIH = 20 million
3. WebMD = 19.5 million
4. MedicineNet.com = 10.5 million
5. Mayoclinic.com = 7 million
Andrew Marvel, VP, ACD at Cement Bloc, contributed to this article.