We are becoming more interested in our health and wellbeing - we turn to the internet to diagnose our aches and ailments, we use our smartphones or wearable fitness trackers to track the number of steps we walk or the calories we consume, and we join online communities to seek out the experiences of other patients.
All this information gathering and sharing has led to the rise of the "empowered patient" - those patients who are willing and have the ability, skills, knowledge and confidence to take responsibility for their health and wellbeing and take an active role in their disease management and care.
Many health commentators now believe patients should play a greater role in their health. This will not only reduce the strain on healthcare systems, but increasing evidence suggests being an empowered patient is good for your health.
1. Reduced risk of disease
Being an empowered patient means you are more engaged with preventative behaviour such as regular checkups and screening, as well as healthy behaviours and lifestyle choices like a healthy diet, regular exercise and avoiding smoking. Studies show that healthy lifestyles and taking responsibility for our health improve health outcomes, such as reducing the risk of disease (ie type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer) and improving quality of life.
2. Increased understanding of your medical condition and how it affects you
Empowered patients are more interested in their diseases and how to improve them and quality of life. They will actively seek out health information and treatment guidelines and options, research what other patients experience, understand what triggers exacerbations of their disease and when to self-treat or escalate. This knowledge gives empowered patients a greater sense of control over their medical condition and allows them to recognise what works and doesn't work for them, ultimately leading to improved health outcomes.
3. Better management of health conditions
Increased understanding of a medical condition leads to better management of that condition - including behaviour change, regular self-monitoring and improved medicines adherence (taking medicines in the way your doctor has prescribed). Better disease management reduces the likelihood of hospitalisation and emergency department visits and increases general wellbeing.
4. Better conversations with doctors
Empowered patients seek to work in partnership with their doctor. They are confident in asking questions and challenge views where necessary. The overall aim is to be part of the treatment and care decision-making process. Studies show empowered patients report more positive care experiences and higher-quality exchanges with doctors than patients who are less engaged.
5. Better use of the healthcare system
Once in a healthcare system it can be confusing and difficult to navigate but empowered patients seek to understand the system, the obstacles to good care, the treatment options, and how they can get the best care possible. They know when to walk away from a decision they don't feel comfortable with and when to get a second opinion. In short, they work the system to get the best results and healthcare they deserve.