Do Patients Really Want to Be Empowered?

Do patients want to be empowered? What is patient empowerment anyway?

If you ask a variety of health care professional and patients “What is patient empowerment?” I am sure you will receive a multitude of responses. These responses could range from the patient asking questions about a variety of treatment options and asking about the pros and cons of each treatment option. It could involve patients asking about side effects of recommended medications. Some would say that it means the patient taking an active role in decisions about treatment, medications, and therapies.

There are those who would go as far as stating that it means the patient researches symptoms and treatment options and brings that information with them to discuss when they meet with their health care provider. Some doctors would counter this with the opinion that many medically naive patients are unable to distinguish the false, misleading, and profit-motivated medical information from the clear and factual resources available from reputable, reliable sources.

Patient empowerment might mean having access to educational information about health, wellness and preventative measures from trustworthy sources at the health care provider’s office. There are some who believe that patient empowerment is about being able to access lab results and personal medical records online. Many health care providers do not think that an empowered patient involves asking for and receiving a copy of their electronic medical record.

Empowerment is defined by The Business Dictionary as “a management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance. Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees skills, resources, authority, opportunity, motivation, as well holding them responsible and accountable for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their competence and satisfaction.” Patient empowerment consists of providing information and decision making to patients enabling them to take control of the choices that affect their long term health. It involves encouraging them to take a more initiative and a more active role in improving their health and solving their health issues.

Do patients really want empowerment or do they just want to be fixed? Not all doctors want empowered patients. Not all patients want to be empowered. Many patients want simple solutions to complex problems. They don’t necessarily want to be responsible for making the decision about taking care of themselves and making responsible health care choices. In short, some do want empowerment and some don’t. Those that do will likely define it differently from each other. It will be important to assess how much involvement and control each patient wants.