Is Patient Empowerment a Myth?

Pamela L. Wible, MD

Disclosures

October 11, 2017

In This Article

Patient Empowerment Is an Oxymoron

When Medscape asked health professionals, "Do you think patients define 'empowerment' the same way physicians do?" only 9% claimed yes. One third (30%) were unsure, and 61% said no.

So how do patients define patient empowerment? While we pontificate and obsess on patient empowerment, I've never actually heard any patient use this term in real-life conversation. So I asked a few random patients for their definitions:

"Patient empowerment: My body is where I presently dwell, and no one on earth is as aware of what's happening as I am; ergo, I see healers as being prime advisors, sharing their awarenesses, insights, expertise, and treatment options. The final choice, however, rests with me, the patient."

"Being informed going into a meeting with a doc as well as being treated as an intelligent human being while there. This is NOT meaning self-prescribing or thinking one can do a doc's work, but rather being treated as an individual who knows her own bodily patterns."

Whereas many physicians and health professionals jumped on the opportunity to share their perspectives on patient empowerment, very few patients engaged with my request for a definition.

Maybe "patient empowerment" is an oxymoron. A patient is usually captive waiting for medical care (which requires lots of patience), whereas empowerment assumes taking charge and having authority. The concept makes little sense. And it makes even less sense in the newborn intensive care unit, and emergency department. Some patients are simply incapable of shared decision-making.

So who holds the real power in the healthcare system? It's not the patient. And lately, it's not the doctor. Most docs I know are disillusioned—or worse. Assembly-line medicine has changed the medical landscape so that both doctor and patient are victims. Neither are particularly empowered.

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