Patient empowerment

Let Patients Help! Informed, Engaged Patients are Better Partners in Care

Dave and handbook

By Dave deBronkart
Chief Patient Officer

Long ago medicine was a one-way street: doctors knew what was worth knowing, and nobody else did. Or so we thought. 

Today we know that approach puts all the burden on doctors and diminishes the role of patients. The new approach is participatory medicine, where informed citizen-patients are active partners in their health and care. 

That’s why back in 2013 my primary physician, Dr. Danny Sands, and I wrote Let Patients Help: A Patient Engagement Handbook. It evolved out of my first 200 speaking events, where I would spread the word about this new approach and I’d hear people’s reactions, which were sometimes skeptical. Here are the four lessons from the book that are most quoted today, eight years later. 

1. Patients are the most under-used resource in healthcare. Let patients help. If we want healthcare to achieve its potential we can’t exclude help from the person who has the most at stake – the patient.

2. Patients perform better when we’re informed better. Help us be informed. Ironically, old-school doctors who think “patients can’t understand this stuff” are often the ones who don’t want us seeing it. It’s a little contradictory to keep patients in the dark and then call them ignorant! Give us our images and help us learn, if we want.

3. Googling is a sign of patient engagement. Encourage it. Develop it! Some doctors say “Stay off the internet – there’s garbage out there.” Dr. Sands didn’t do that – he showed me where to find the good stuff, and it helped save my life. Of course there’s garbage on the internet; I’m fond of saying that before I met my wife on Match.com in 1999, I went through some sub-optimal search results! It’s a good thing I kept looking until I found the good stuff.

4. How to introduce yourself to a new doctor: “I’m the kind of patient who likes to understand as much as I can about my health. Could I ask some questions?” I’ve found that this is a powerful ice-breaker; it lets them know that you’re curious and engaged. I’ve also found that some docs have never met anyone who spoke up like that! Give it a try sometime.

Which one of these lessons resonates with you?

Don’t be afraid to speak up and put your healthcare in your own hands. You just may thank yourself someday.