Empowerment and Ownership

What does it means to be empowered as a patient and have ownership of your healthcare? Does that question intimidate you? It shouldn’t. I’ll explain why.

The process by which one becomes empowered is kind of rough. “Becoming empowered” suggests that you are starting from a place of powerlessness. That is an unsettling thought. Who wants to feel powerless? A more palatable term might be unknowing. One of my favorite quotes is, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” As a physician, I struggle with patients not wanting to know as much as they can about their medical condition.

But that’s when I have to take a step back and realize that patients don’t always know what is important, where to put their energy and focus. It’s like when I go to my CPA. I know I drive her crazy. My knowledge of tax code and the IRS is miniscule. I wish I had a dollar for every time that she asks me a question and I get the “deer in a headlights” look. Half of the time, I have no idea what she’s talking about. Initially, I was embarrassed to let her know how clueless I was. Eventually, as we formed a relationship and I began to trust her, I asked her explain things to me at a grade school level. My ego was in the way. I was afraid. Once I dropped my barriers, I was able to listen to her and understand my “tax diagnosis”. She still sighs and looks at me with frustration when we meet, but she’s the expert and I trust her to help me. I can tell she doesn’t understand why I don’t want to know all and everything about my tax situation. It’s not that I don’t want to know as much as I can, I just want to know as much as I can to keep me out of trouble with the IRS. She can focus on the minutia.

As a women’s health expert, I get hyped about my patients being educated and informed about their medical conditions. Yet, I forget that my patient (like me with my CPA) is often overwhelmed with my medical terms and explanations. That’s when I pump my brakes and start to break things down.

The problem I see most often in my practice is two-fold: my patients are seeing doctors who, for whatever reasons, are not thoroughly explaining diagnoses and treatments to patients; and the patients are not asking the doctors to be more clear about what’s going on. I have patients who have what I call a medical team: a primary care doctor, a couple of specialists, and me, the OB/GYN. When I ask how their non-female related issues are being treated, a lot of times, I get very vague and uncertain answers. Often, I’ll ask the patient to please get some clarity from their other providers regarding their medical conditions. Enter the “deer in the headlights” look. I grab a piece of paper and write down specific questions I’d like them to ask their doctors the next time they have an appointment. It’s not really for me. Again, I want the patient to feel comfortable and somewhat knowledgeable about their health issues.

All of the answers are not on Google. If anything, there’s too much information online. Even I struggle to understand tests and diagnoses that are out of my scope. Because of my training and education, I can sort through the information easier than most of the public, but it’s still a challenge. SavvyLadyPatient.com is a place where women can share their unique experiences and, hopefully, gain some information, clarity, and peace of mind regarding a specific medical condition, or their overall health.

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