Patient Blog

Patient Empowerment: Becoming an Informed Patient

Patient Empowerment

How can you become an engaged participant in your medical care? Gain knowledge and autonomy with these patient empowerment tips.

The road to patient empowerment begins by seeking out reliable information about your health and using this information to become an active participant in care.

In the United States and Canada, by law, patients can own and access their healthcare information through the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Canadian Privacy Act of 2004.

Since these laws have passed, technological growth has made healthcare information more accessible. Patients expect to be able to access this information about their healthcare and will use it to play an active role in their healthcare choices.

Patient empowerment through information and access positively impacts the journey of care. Empowered patients also feel more engaged: they’ve gained the right information to ask informed questions and discuss their results confidently.

Understanding how to become empowered on your medical care journey begins by learning:

  • What patient empowerment is and why it’s so important
  • How patient empowerment impacts the quality of healthcare and outcomes
  • Barriers to patient empowerment (and how to remove them)
  • 5 ways to become an empowered, confident patient

What does patient empowerment mean and why is it so important?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines empowerment as the process through which patients can gain more control over the decisions and actions that affect their health. Patient empowerment can also mean actively participating in your healthcare journey.

Patient empowerment contains 4 elements:

  1. Knowledge: understanding the research on your condition and becoming informed
  2. Equality: having equal access to care and the ability to get what you need to ensure continuity of treatment (especially if you switch hospitals or clinics during treatment)
  3. Engagement: being involved in decision-making and actively participating in treatment plans
  4. Agency: the freedom to act or ask questions and feel heard, not dismissed

Becoming an empowered patient is a purposeful decision. Traditionally, healthcare used a top-down approach, with a doctor telling their patient what to do and their patient following those instructions as well as they can. This approach has left some patients in the dark about their healthcare options, the terminology they must navigate and their understanding of the next steps on their journey.

Gaining the knowledge to understand the medical diagnostic terms in referrals and educational materials increases patient autonomy. Having the ability to access their own test results, get a second opinion or create and adjust a schedule of care online is vital in creating a health system that values patient participation.

It’s just as important that patient caregivers can access and understand the information affecting patient care. They also require the ability to engage safely and easily with practitioners. A caregiver is often the other main party involved in patient care, which means an empowered caregiver allows for an empowered patient.

How patient empowerment affects patient outcomes

Research shows that giving patients access to their healthcare data allows for better medical outcomes and lower treatment costs, among other positive results. A study conducted by OpenNotes found that 60% of patients who had access to their doctor’s notes became more likely to take their medical care seriously, and 77% felt that increased access helped them feel more in control of their healthcare.

Recent 2022 research shows that empowered patients are engaged patients—and they’re also healthier. Patients who participated in their own care and shared decision-making with their practitioners also experienced less pain, decreased medical costs and reduced anxiety and depression.

Empowering patients to participate in their own care also means they become more motivated to closely follow their doctor’s recommendations and keep follow-up appointments. Patients who are more engaged in their care are 14% less likely to end up back in hospital, according to a recent orthopedic patient study.

But what if empowered patients actually experience a better journey of medical care? 85% of patients given access to their own medical imaging and test results reported a better care experience, according to a 2022 PocketHealth survey. And 91% of patients say having secure access to their digital medical imaging on PocketHealth helps them have more confident and informed discussions with their care practitioner.

Barriers to patient empowerment

Difficulty accessing medical documents or delayed follow-up appointments happen even with the best intentions. Lack of reliable medical information online or short-staffed clinics can reduce patient control over their next steps. Each obstacle listed below can make it difficult to feel empowered as a patient and making informed decisions can be even more challenging.

  • Health literacy. To benefit from access to their medical report, patients must also understand what they are reading. Doctors use medical images and reports to diagnose and prescribe treatment plans for their patients, but the terminology used to make these decisions can be highly technical. Complicated medical language makes it less likely for some patients to follow their treatment plans because they don’t understand the “why” behind their doctor’s orders.
  • Technology. Technology is constantly changing. New technology allows patients to access their medical data confidently and securely, helping them make informed decisions during their treatment plans. But when those tasks used to be done over the phone, in person or on paper, some patients may find it difficult to keep up.
  • Access. Establishing and maintaining access to specialty care clinics, certain hospitals and types of specialists can be time-consuming, frustrating or even impossible. Depending on income level, employment status or location, patients may be unable to visit physical locations to retrieve documents or attend appointments. Having secure access to documents and virtual platforms of communication reduces this socioeconomic barrier to access.

5 ways to become an empowered patient

Empowered patients prepare in many different ways to help them navigate and participate in their own healthcare. These patients are not satisfied by following only their practitioner’s instructions at face value but feel more confident when they understand the reasons behind their doctor’s choices and how these decisions impact care.

Confident, empowered patients are drivers, not passengers, in their healthcare journey. They take charge of their care by:

  1. Arriving prepared. Researching medical terms and procedures before your appointment is a smart move. It allows you to discuss your reports with your doctor in a confident, informed way. Using well-researched sources and accessing your medical images and reports before your appointment lets you know what to focus on.
  2. Asking questions. Preparing a list of questions ahead of your appointment can help you stay on track and focus on the information you want to gain. Asking informed questions can help you achieve a lot in a short period of time, especially if you receive surprising news in your appointment.
  3. Becoming an expert. Understanding the nitty-gritty details of an illness and staying up to date on new research can help you advocate for the treatment you want. Educating yourself on the latest science, especially if you’ve been living with a chronic illness, can help you make informed decisions about your care alongside your doctor.
  4. Understanding next steps. Knowing why your medical practitioner chose a specific course of treatment or has suggested certain tests means you’re more likely to follow their treatment plan. And since adhering to your treatment plan is crucial to having a better health outcome, gaining the knowledge to understand that plan is a necessary step to becoming an empowered patient.
  5. Being confident. A medical diagnosis can suddenly place you in a vulnerable state. It can help to bring a patient advocate to your appointments, like a family member, friend or caregiver, who can provide you with the support you need. Discussing your care with a safe group of peers such as a support group or larger patient network can empower you to have more open and informed discussions with your doctor and care team about your medical journey.

How PocketHealth helps you become a more empowered patient

Becoming an empowered advocate for your own health begins with you. PocketHealth can help you reach a state of empowerment—faster, by providing:

  • Imaging record access. PocketHealth lets you quickly and securely access, manage and save your medical images and reports online, often as soon as the radiologist releases them. Access your records today.
  • Clear definitions. Medical terminology can be complex, so PocketHealth’s Report Reader provides clear, detailed information about many of the terms you will encounter while researching and is an invaluable pocket guide to keep with you at your appointments.
  • Sharing capabilities. Have an appointment with a specialist? PocketHealth allows you to easily share any prior images or reports, so you never need to worry about whether your records were transferred appropriately.
  • Suggested questions. Sometimes there isn’t time to prepare ahead of important appointments. Get personalized question prompts from MyCare Navigator’s Ask My Doctor feature to help you have better conversations with your doctor.
  • Follow-up recommendations. Always stay on top of any recommended next steps thanks to Follow-up Navigator’s ability to spotlight follow-ups in your reports.
  • Screening tools. Stay on top of your healthcare by using preventative screening tools like MyCare Navigator’s Bone Health Screening to help identify possible health risks.
  • Permanent access. Securely store your imaging and other health records—forever.

“Accessing my imaging records and reports through PocketHealth has really improved communication with my healthcare providers. I go into appointments prepared and empowered. I have the information already—I’ve read it, digested it and have my list of questions. We’re not wasting any time. We go directly to action.”

– Kristy, PocketHealth User

Take charge of your care

Medical advancements in technology and patient care move quickly. Thanks to the expansion of digital security, more and more patients can access medical information that helps them participate more easily in their healthcare journey.

Patients can practice empowerment from the moment they first speak with their practitioner and throughout their follow-up care by reviewing medical reports and asking relevant, informed questions about treatment. This approach allows patients to share the responsibility of treatment alongside their doctor, placing them squarely in a position of confidence.

Although socioeconomic barriers to healthcare will continue to persist, technology has allowed patients to access and review medical documents, book and cancel appointments and even speak with their practitioners—all online.

Empowered patients are learning that increased health literacy and shared decision-making capabilities lead to better outcomes for all.

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