ACP president-elect David A. Fleming, MD, recently discussed the knowledgeable patient, praising them and admonishing all healthcare providers that feel

“The rise of the empowered patient may threaten the previous stature of the physician as the sole decision maker…  empowered patients make the decisions which they feel are right for them. This has important implications for how healthcare providers view such patients and engage with them.”

He remarked, “I think the good physician is going to attempt to empower their patients by giving them information. That’s what informed consent is all about. That’s what patient-centered, shared decision-making is about.”

For sure, the Internet and social media have made discussions with patients more “complex and challenging because so much of the information is wrong or confusing and is taken out of context…and we have to correct the mistakes. But on the other hand, it’s encouraging discussion with the patient and families.”

Patients are greatly relying on information they see on Wikipedia. The  IMS report correlates spikes in illness with Wikipedia page views.  They point out that lag times differ by age: “Younger patients tend to research a treatment before starting it, whereas those aged 50 years and older typically start treatment first, then search for information about it.”

The premise of furthering discussion is included in the IMS (Institute for Healthcare Informatics) report’s fourth recommendation for healthcare providers dealing with   social media:

“HCPs can learn from patients engaging in social media about their conditions and the realities of living with them. They can also pass on their findings to other patients and encourage them to seek out online support communities. Groups of providers can utilize social media to improve the quality of their customer service, gain feedback on new initiatives, and crowd-source ideas for improvements. A growing segment of patients are likely to appreciate this and may demonstrate increased loyalty.”

Dr. Fleming feels that this is the direction that medicine is transitioning to, “Over the last 40-50 years, the rise of autonomy has put the patient more central to the kinds of communication that occurs. It’s not a one-sided discussion….It’s a discussion of what options we need to consider…. All of the professional organizations are embracing the notion of communicating effectively.”

For those doctors that cling to  the past methods of “paternal” medicine and fail to embrace a newer patient-centric model of care, their days are numbered.  Patients want more and they deserve it!

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