When diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness not only do you have the shock of the diagnosis, but now you’re required to make all these decisions about your care. Our age of technology sends most of us running to the internet for information and options and in many cases it helps and in others it increases the confusion. Do you think it’s possible to discuss with your doctor all the options to come up with a feasible treatment plan? What if the doctor talked to you and not at you, would that make a difference? Wouldn’t you rather be a partner in your care than have a plan super-imposed on you like clothing bought off-the-rack?
The only way you, the patient, should be making decisions about your own care is if you’re thoroughly informed. Making off-the-cuff decisions isn’t good for you and will leave you angry at the medical community. The internet may provide a foundation of information, but it can’t go through a decision-making process for you so there has to be a better plan. Becoming an informed patient means having a dialogue with your doctor and coming to an understanding about the pros and cons of each treatment option and how the two of you can tackle this health challenge.
There is a group called “The Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making” (http://www.informedmedicaldecisions.org) that focuses on how patients make decisions and is looking at outcome studies when patients are fully informed about their options. I’ve spoken in the past about the fact that if you go to a surgeon they are going to want to do surgery, as an example. Each provider has some stake in the treatment plan because it’s their specialty, it’s what they know, and it’s how they know to solve the problem.
Business week had an article discussing ways to reduce healthcare costs and they shared a scenario from the Spine Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. They said, “patients with back problems are show a video that walks them through various procedures and provides data showing that outcomes are similar whether or not they have surgery. Once the program started, spinal surgery rates dropped 30%.” A 30% reduction in spinal surgeries, so how does the domino effect apply? Thirty-percent fewer spinal surgeries means 30% fewer chances for surgical errors that result in medical malpractice suits. Thirty-percent fewer spinal surgeries means less chance for the patient to acquire a hospital based infection like MRSA or Cdiff. These are big things to consider.
It doesn’t matter what your diagnosis, informed decision-making is crucial to your well-being. It will empower you and that in and of itself increase your confidence in the treatment and the provider. When you feel empowered it increases your level of hope and that’s important for your recovery. Informed decision-making means that your voice is heard and your place in this world as an individual, not a number is honored!