Published on Nov 22, 2017
Medically reviewed by Gene Gosselin, RN
We’ve all seen the healthcare system undergo major changes. Providers, patients, and policymakers all share the desire for these changes to result in improved access, enhanced quality for patients and reduced healthcare costs within the system. And though it used to be common for patients to be relatively passive when receiving care, you may now find yourself being invited to participate more fully in the process of your own health and wellbeing. This is true whether you have a chronic condition, an acute illness, or are at a routine wellness visit.
Participating in care requires that you speak up, ask questions, and engage with your healthcare team. If you aren’t already doing so, it’s important that you start. Why should you change your habits? It’s simple. Studies show that patients who are actively engaged in shared decision making have a more satisfying patient experience and may even end up with better healthcare results.
Becoming more active in your own healthcare has many benefits. Right now, the system is shifting from a physician-centred model towards one that revolves much more closely around the patient. This particular model has become more common, and is called patient-centred care. The patient-centred model provides many benefits, but it also can require you to become more informed, and share in a number of health care discussions and decisions, including:
Ultimately, this level of participation may also mean that you might need to interpret data or understand complex health information. It will also require you to ask questions and partner with your healthcare providers and take actions so you get the most affordable quality care you can.
Becoming an active participant at a doctor’s visit may not feel easy or natural for everyone. Some people are intimidated in a medical setting. Others may feel it’s rude to question healthcare professionals, or feel uncertain about what they know or what they need to know. And let’s face it, if you’re at the doctor’s surgery, you are probably not feeling your very best anyway. So it can be hard to muster the energy to be your own advocate. Still, half of the doctor/patient relationship depends on you. Providers are not mind readers, and they can’t do their best to help you if they do not know what you’re thinking or feeling.
If you feel anxious about bringing things up to your healthcare team, it may help to simply say so. You can start by saying something like, “Doctor, I have a problem I need to tell you about, but it’s difficult for me to discuss.” You can explain what makes it hard for you by saying: “I find it embarrassing”, or “I’m worried you’ll be angry”, or “I am not sure I am going to be good at taking this treatment the way you want me to.” These kinds of statements alert your provider to listen, and recognise your concerns. Remember: first and foremost healthcare professionals want to help you. They want to have your trust; so when you open up, it helps to allow for honest communication.
Here are some tips to help you become an active participant in your healthcare decision-making:
Once in a great while, you may try to engage with members of your healthcare team over an important matter without getting a complete response. When this happens, it’s good to remember that as with any relationship, it takes work from both sides, and sometimes the chemistry just isn’t right. Take care to broach the topic clearly and courteously. You may try saying, “I’m worried that we’re not on the same page, Doctor.” Or “I’m wondering if we’re not quite understanding one another.”
Of course, if you feel that your concerns are not being addressed, you can always seek a second opinion. What matters most is that you play your part in managing your health, and staying healthy. Whether you have a chronic condition, or you’re simply dealing with a routine matter, if you get active with your healthcare team, you will get better results. After all, it’s your health. Don’t you owe it to yourself to get the best healthcare possible?
Gene Gosselin, RN was previously the Director—Customer Solutions at Pfizer Inc. Gene is a Registered Nurse, Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Case Manager with experience designing and delivering health care communications, education, behavioral health and marketing programs.
Last reviewed: 08/10/2019
- National Institutes of Health