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Patient Empowerment

In the US healthcare system, knowing the basics of health is not enough; it may also be necessary to know how to navigate the system. In this article, I’ll discuss patient empowerment, which I believe is one of the most important things I can do for my patients to help them navigate their health and the US healthcare system.

Health Insurance

Health insurance is at the heart of the US healthcare system. Even Medicare and Medicaid are always administered by a health insurance company.

The anatomy of health insurance includes:

  • Monthly premium
  • Deductible
  • Copay
  • Coinsurance
  • Out-of-pocket maximum
  • Network
  • Formulary
  • Preauthorization

From this list alone, it should be evident that health insurance is a financial tool. Health insurance is not the same as health.

Here at Digital Nomad Health, we don’t believe in using health insurance for routine care because it adds to the cost of healthcare delivery. But most will need an insurance product to protect against major health-related financial catastrophes, which, fortunately, are pretty rare.

In my practice, I help patients navigate the healthcare system, but when you don’t have a Direct Primary Care doctor, it falls on you to know how much you can purchase a drug without insurance when your insurance decides to mark it up by 1,000%.

Patient Empowerment

Knowing more about healthcare gives patients autonomy and control over their health journey. I have narrowed the key aspects down to the following, some of which I can help my patients with and others which the patients must acquire themselves.

WHO defines empowerment as “a process through which people gain greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health”

Patient Empowerment Network

1. Health Information

There is a lot of research that the drug or device manufacturer sponsors. This means that some data is biased towards a product that may, in fact, not be as effective as claimed.

A patient needs to know how to navigate this by learning about good health information resources. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for me, a physician. A seemingly solid randomized controlled trial may not be all that strong if it wasn’t for how the statistics were calculated.

I read books by physician authors, consult subject matter experts, review recent literature, and look for studies that measure outcomes that are important to my patients.

2. Communication

A patient must be able to communicate with their physician in an open, honest way. If that physician can’t make them feel heard, the patient may not express all of their concerns and needs.

I will offer my patients multiple options and help them decide what is best for them, but I don’t make decisions for them. In any health relationship, support is much more important than telling someone what to do.

3. Health Data

A patient should have access to all of their own health data, from lab tests to xrays and MRIs. Assuming that your doctor has that information and that it was interpreted correctly may lead to disappointments in the future.

Our current healthcare system puts the onus on the medical group and the physician. But this doesn’t empower the patient and instead creates an unhealthy reliance on healthcare professionals.

4. Self-Management

My patients should have all the tools and information necessary to manage their health. And only if and when that proves ineffective will I offer them options for interventions, such as medications, surgeries, or treatments.

Most studies confirm that lifestyle changes, for example, have much more potent effects than medication in most chronic diseases.

5. Advocacy

My patient should be able to advocate for themselves or have someone who can advocate on their behalf.

Sometimes, we can go to our physician for support and help. Other times, we need to include patient advocacy groups and even patient support groups.

6. Rights

The most important right to be aware of is health insurance. If you rely on such a product for your daily care, it’s necessary to know the ins and outs of your policy and how your state regulates such policies.

7. Emotional Support

A patient will feel empowered when their needs are met. Often, the needs are emotional support, and only in a few circumstances is actual medical care necessary.

In the ideal healthcare system, you can feel supported by your healthcare team and be free to express yourself.

8. Technology

The technology we have in healthcare is centered around billing and profits, which have been the main drivers of new technology.

However, tools are also available to improve patient engagement and empower you to track certain clinical markers to help improve your overall health outcomes.

The Empowered Patient

The empowered patient feels in tune with their body and believes that what they do on a daily basis and the decisions they make will give them the health results they are looking for.

This patient knows where to search for good information. They often have a few experts they follow online and know which online resources are reliable and trustworthy.

There will be times when major illness derails a person’s well-being. However, this patient has a process of systematically pursuing options and using the feedback from their clinical team to make even better decisions.

They check in with themselves routinely to see if they are doing the right things for their health and what screening or preventative steps might be helpful.

When it comes to medications or interventions, the empowered patient discusses these options with their PCP and rarely makes decisions out of fear.

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