Model stories written by young professionals/students.
Empowerment Is Everything
After observing a provider interact with patient of low health literacy, a student begins to understand that empowering patients to be more autonomous in their healthcare is an important, and sometimes vital, part of the medical care that providers give to their patients.
It is essential that patients receive adequate medical care during their time interacting with healthcare providers. However, it is equally important that healthcare providers educate and empower their patients to take control of their own healthcare and to be involved in decisions about their health. Some patients, such as elderly patients, may need help from their provider to find the confidence to navigate the world of healthcare on their own. During my time shadowing in clinic this semester, I have seen that a provider who makes the effort to educate and empower his or her patients to understand all aspects of their medical care can make a significant difference in the lives of patients.
During each interaction with patients, I noticed how Dr. Smith* utilized therapeutic communication when conversing with her patients, which facilitated a more solid patient-provider relationship. Dr. Smith also took her time with each patient and maintained steady eye contact with her patients, thereby showing her investment in what the patient was saying. She created a dialogue about the patient’s care and asked the patient if he or she had any questions throughout the conversation while providing resources for more information. This gave patients and their families confidence to ask questions that they may have previously been hesitant to ask.
I was amazed by how Dr. Smith empowered and encouraged her patients to take charge and educate themselves about their healthcare. For example, we were in the exam room with an older patient who described himself as being from a medically underserved area about two and a half hours away from the clinic. It seemed that due to their life circumstances, he and his wife were not the most health literate of patients when they first arrived to the clinic for their first appointment. However, though the course of the husband’s treatment, this elderly couple had been empowered by kind and caring healthcare professionals to learn more about the husband’s disease and his treatment. The patient’s wife had thorough notes about all of his symptoms and asked a myriad of questions relating to his medications and their interactions. She did not seem phased by complex medical terminology, and instead, could hold an intelligent conversation about her husband’s care, all the while taking notes to add to her arsenal of medical knowledge.
Along with an aging population comes an increase in the number of health problems that cannot be adequately treated at home, like the health problems for which the husband at the clinic was being seen. In some instances, this leads many caretakers and families to turn to nursing homes or other long-term care facilities for help, trusting that they will take appropriate care of their loved ones. When patients and families haven’t been encouraged by their healthcare providers to engage in a conversation about their care instead of feeling as though they have to accept orders issued down from the physician with little to no input, it can cause patients to agree to care plans that they don’t truly believe to be a good fit for themselves, or even in their best interest.
While neither the elderly patient nor his wife are currently residents in long-term care facilities, this could be a reality for them in the not too distant future. However, they have been guided through the healthcare system, directed toward resources when needed, and have been given confidence in their ability to be their own advocates in terms of their healthcare, making it less likely that they would passively accept healthcare decisions without first having a conversation about them.
Overall, I was blown away by the patient-provider interaction I saw in the clinic. I have never seen a patient so empowered by his or her healthcare providers, and I have never seen a physician take so much time to actively encourage and answer questions during an appointment. It seemed as though the patient was driving the appointment instead of the physician dictating how the appointment would proceed. I believe that if all physicians could empathize and slow down enough to empower their patients the way that Dr. Smith clearly has, our healthcare system would be much better off. Empowering a patient can truly make all the difference.