Patient Empowerment

The public, armed with useful non-jargon information, is rightly demanding a say in how healthcare is organised and delivered. Historically the patient has been expected to follow blindly the doctor’s advice with little input or participation in his/her treatment. The ability of patients to act as consumers and therefore participate in their own treatment has been severely hampered by medical secrecy and arrogance. The patient, on the whole, was not seen as having the training or intellect to understand complex medical issues and was therefore treated as a passenger and not a participant in their treatment. This lack of participation by the patient was caused in large part by a lack of appropriate information on which to make informed decisions.

The almost universal access to the internet has turned a bright light into what had been relatively dark corners. Patients, armed with useful non-jargon information, are becoming consumers of healthcare. They are insisting on doctors being measured, the publishing of meaningful outcome data, and access to healthcare based on their needs and not services based around what the health workers want.


Patients need to have a platform from which to make informed decisions and demand that they are participants and not passengers in their treatment. They can begin to measure around data points that are meaningful to them the quality of the treatment they receive and, most importantly, begin to shape the health service from a patient’s and not an employee perspective.

In France, (where the health system frequently ranks at the top of the World Health Organisation’s best providers) 40 per cent of health provision is supplied by the private sector. The French enjoy choice, clean hospitals and friendly staff, not to mention some of the highest quality outcomes in the world. France has embraced an agnostic system where providers are chosen and survive based on ability and quality of outcomes and not idealism.

For too long, patients have been allowed to suffer while high-level discussions take place around the politics of health.  France and others have proven that the discussion must centre around the patient and their needs. Most importantly, the patient must be at the centre of that debate and not be kept on its periphery.

The above is the opinion of Ken Anderson, former commercial director general, Department of Health, UK. He is singing my song. The best and the most efficient health systems in other countries are based on universal provision where the money follows the patient. With further health cuts promised in the present economic downturn, we have never been more in need of new leadership and a new direction for our health service.

Source: Irish Times online.

5 Responses to Patient Empowerment

  1. Baino says:

    Steph you’re right, funding is important but it used to bemuse me that particularly my father was a ‘yes doctor’ type. I took him to many specialists and outpatient treatment centres and he never once questioned or ‘learned’ about his disease. I was the one asking questions and postulating new procedures. It was at my insistance that a bile duct stent was installed to help with his jaundice when doctors considered it unimportant because he was going to die anyway. It relieved his symptoms greatly . . .More than money, Doctors need to realise that they are mechanics, human mechanics and if they don’t explain what they’re doing to the engine, we’ll go elsewhere and slam their methods to boot! All medicos should be judged by their ability and quality of outcomes. Of course, having the funding to produce those outcomes is essential!

  2. annb says:

    As a matter of interest Steph, what do you think of Fine Gael’s promise of universal health care modelled on the Dutch and Canadian systems? Do you think they really know what they’re talking about? I no longer trust any of them you see!

  3. JBBC says:

    Hi Steph, as you know, I am also a huge advocate of patient empowerment. A recent study reveals that when colorectal cancer patients seek out health information from the internet and news media, they are more likely to be aware of and receive the latest treatments for their disease. Patients have become more involved in their health care as patient autonomy has become increasingly important. That change has been accompanied by unprecedented growth in the amount of health information available to patients.

  4. Bendy Girl says:

    Hi Steph, whilst I’m hugely in favour of patient empowerment I’m hugely sceptical of any of this kind of ‘propoganda’. The current trend in the UK is that health care must be privatised to solve the problems. Problem is that’s not what patients or medics think will solve the problems, just what politicians want. The French model is trotted out as the perfect example as is the Swedish but no-one mentions that healthcare is bankrupting France and in Sweden access is no better than Britain.
    To me the answer seems simple. Carry on funding via taxation but look at local level decision making, but what do I know…I’m just a patient;)
    BG x

  5. Steph says:

    Baino – Your Dad was very lucky to have you fight his corner for him. I think that ‘Yes, doctor’ phenomenon was very much part of our parents generation who didn’t have access to medical information and therefore tended to do as they were told. Those days of meek acceptance of authority (the church being another example), are thankfully becoming a thing of the past.

    Ann – I do very much approve of Fine Gael’s proposed health plan based on the Dutch model. The Labour Party also supports universal health care so if/when this government falls, we stand a good chance of having healthcare head in the right direction for a change. The Fine Gael plan is for a 3-phase plan to be implemented over four years. Here’s a link to some more info on it…

    JBBC – Thanks for that! Patient awareness also enhances patient safety. Only yesterday, my GP phoned after a consultation to tell me that he was changing my antibiotic prescription following advice from a microbiologist. He used the generic name rather than the trade name when discussing the new antibiotic so I didn’t recognise the drug. Afterwards, I researched the drug by it’s generic name and found it to be an antibiotic that I’d had a very bad reaction to many years ago. Had I been a passenger not a participant in my treatment, I might well now be suffering the consequences!

    Bendy – The concept of universal healthcare is that the State subsidises the less well-off up to 100 percent of the premium. Private insurance companies will still exist but they’ll have to compete by offering a basic healthcare package with community rating and a risk equalisation element. In a universal system, private health insurance will no longer entitle holders to faster healthcare but it will offer more luxurious surroundings. The NHS has used the private-sector to help reduce long waiting lists. This had the added bonus of injecting competition into the system and also acted as an incentive to change behaviour. What happens next with healthcare in Ireland, is anyone’s guess!

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