Doctor and Patient

The business of medicine is in enormous change. The rules are changing, reimbursement’s changing, and providers are stressed. It’s clearer than ever that now is the time to let patients – the most underused member of the health care team – play a more active role in the future of medicine.

“Let patients help” was the chant at the end of my TED talk, and it’s become the motto of my efforts to persuade medicine to give patients an entirely new role. In 2012 I shared those efforts with the employers who self-fund their health plans through The Alliance at its Annual Seminar. I’m still traveling, carrying the message across the US and internationally, and Let Patients Help is the title of a new little book of practical tips I just published… with my doctor!

It’s about partnership – patients actively thinking, carrying part of the workload, and providers welcoming the help. That’s how my doctors, nurses and I approached my own frightening case six years ago, when I learned I was almost dead from Stage 4 kidney cancer: I did everything my team proposed, but I didn’t stop there – I did everything in my power to think for myself and help my own cause.

For instance, my doctor recommended an online patient forum. From them I found empathy and a ton of practical, useful advice on dealing with the disease – best doctors, coping with side effects, and just plain “We know what you mean.” While hospitalized I kept thinking for myself; more than once I discovered a mistake that was about to be made, and spoke up. (Great hospitals welcome that help!)

Today “let patients help improve costs and value” has taken on broader meaning: it’s about listening to patients in every way. It makes sense; patients aren’t doctors, but if medicine doesn’t hear the voice of the patient, how can we wisely guide the industry’s future? Every other industry puts high priority on the voice of the customer, and medicine’s starting to, too.

And, importantly, we’re starting to involve patients in the tradeoff decisions about what’s most valuable among our medical options. Yes, consumerism is coming to health care.

That can be scary for the health care system: it requires listening to what patients prefer and giving them self-service tools. But here’s the best part: it promises to reward providers who work hard and do better. Today it’s hard to find out what hospital has achieved the best infection rates, above-average quality scores and all the things informed patients value. But as information gets published and consumerism unfolds, market forces will improve value in medicine. Same as they’ve done in cars, TVs, and many industries.

My work has led me to groups like The Alliance as well as providers, insurers, health policy leaders and patient communities. It’s an honor – and a challenge – to explain clearly why it’s important to let patients help as we transform health care to deliver both better health and better care. Consumerism will, for the first time, let market forces reward providers who do great. And that’s a good thing.

e-Patient Dave provides the “voice of the patient” through his blog at www.epatientdave.com. His new book, authored with his physician Dr. Danny Sands, is Let Patients Help: A “patient engagement” handbook – how doctors, nurses, patients and caregivers can partner for better health.