An empowered patient is one who has influence in their healthcare interactions and affairs to improve their health and quality of life.
Patient empowerment encompasses three main abilities: (1) information seeking, (2) critical self-reflection, and (3) communication skills. First, an empowered patient seeks health information from multiple sources such as clinicians, credible websites, social support networks (in-person and online), and family members and friends. Second, an empowered patient engages in critical self-reflection. Having influence over one’s health requires an understanding of one’s needs, desires, and preferences. Third, an empowered patient utilizes communication skills to actively participate in their healthcare interactions, seeing themselves as a key healthcare team member.
Although there are many communication skills that can be helpful in healthcare encounters, the ABCs are a good place to start!
- ASK Questions – Ask your clinician questions. As patients we often do not ask our clinicians questions because we may feel we are taking up too much of their time or we are embarrassed that we don’t understand something. If you have felt this way before, know that you are not alone; yet, to overcome this, write down your questions prior to your appointment. Then tell you clinician at the beginning of the consultation, “Hey, I’m sure you are busy, but there are a few really important questions I would like answered today. Here’s the list. Can we make sure to talk about them at some point?”
- BRING Information – Keep meticulous records about your health and healthcare. Furthermore, bring relevant information to your appointments, especially if you have a chronic condition or see many different clinicians throughout the year. Also, store a list of medications in your wallet or purse. Finally, have a folder/binder or utilize a mobile app to keep all your medical information including insurance, billing, and future appointments. Having this information available and easily accessible will assist your clinicians in caring for you holistically.
- CHECK Understanding – Verify that you understand the information provided to you by your clinicians. This communication skill is perhaps the most helpful. Oftentimes clinicians give us a lot of information during our healthcare encounters, so before leaving any appointment, make sure to say: “Based on my appointment today, these are the things I need to do…Is that correct?”
In short, gaining knowledge, being able to critically self-reflect, and performing specific communication skills can help us become empowered patients who make informed health decisions and improve our quality of life.