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Are You an Informed Patient?


Doctors need to explain the health care plan in plain words.

Recently, after reading an article by two surgeons in the New York Times, I had to wonder at my own naivete in regard to informed patient care. Sure, I think I’m a pretty savvy health care consumer; but when these two doctors said most people have no idea what they are signing when they give consent, I was aghast.

But, then, we’ve all been there…the doctor asks if we have any questions about a procedure and like a deer in the headlights we respond, “Uh, no, no questions.”

Are you health care literate?

If we look at the other side of the coin, not the deer in the headlights, but an informed, educated patient; we have a very different model of health care decision-making.  The abstract of a professional paper titled, “What an informed patient means for the future of healthcare,” describes a hugely different scenario.

Geriatrician Kentaro Nishino, MD

The paper asserts that physicians must respect patient autonomy by being honest and empowering patients to make informed decisions about their health. And to make informed decisions they need health literacy skills. Indeed, a recent Institute of Medicine report found that nearly half of Americans have difficulty understanding and acting on health information.

So, what does health literacy mean? It means people need to have knowledge of their condition and awareness of how to navigate the system as well as manage self-care. In other words, people need help figuring out what they need to do to get healthier.

Take an active role in your health

At the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety in Boston, one focus is on patients’ involvement in their own health literacy. Patients are encouraged to do their homework and involve the families and community in the decision-making.

The center recommends patients plan ahead for doctor visits.  If you find it hard to talk with your doctor or nurse practitioner, try some of these strategies: come prepared, ask questions, understand your diagnosis and treatment and pay attention to the care you receive.

Surgeons ask patients to help them

Our New York Times surgeons said they would love to do a better job of informing patients. Here is their request:

Ask us to use common words and terms. If your doctor says that you’ll end up with a “simple iliac ileal conduit” say, “Can you explain what that means?”

Summarize back what you heard.  That way, if you’ve misunderstood or we did a poor job of explaining, there will be a chance to straighten it out.

Request written materials, or even pictures or videos. “Hard copies” such as pamphlets and videos may be more helpful than blah, blah.

Ask for best-case, worst-case, and most likely scenarios, along with the chance of each one occurring.

Ask if you can talk to someone who has undergone the surgery or treatment. That person will have different insights.

Explore alternative treatment options, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Take notes, and bring someone else to your appointments to be your advocate, ask the questions you may be reluctant to, and be your “accessory brain,” to help process the information we are trying to convey.

Finally, the surgeons said, “We’ve seen too many patients regret decisions that they made without fully understanding their options, or the possible outcome. We encourage our patients, and our colleagues, to be partners in what are often life-changing decisions about health care.”

Generation Solutions can ensure you are an informed patient with our Care Management Services. Use our expertise to ensure you are fully informed and have best possible outcomes in managing a chronic illness or a surgical procedure. Our care managers care accompany you to all appointments and plan all after care and follow up. Generation Solutions SKILLED HOME HEALTH SERVICES can help you recover and improve well  being in the comfort of your own home. CALL TODAY Lynchburg (434) 455-6500 or Roanoke (540)520-5526