Long ago—about two thousand years, in fact—the doctor-patient relationship began in ancient Greece. But back then, and up until a few years ago, it was mostly a one-sided conversation. After the patient would provide a description of symptoms, the doctor would take over, giving advice on what to do.
Does this sound familiar? Well, if it does, that’s because there has been very little change in the doctor-patient relationship until very recently. Now, the traditional interaction between provider and patient is finally evolving, due to a convergence of technology and information. That evolution is now defined not as a one-sided affair, but more of a partnership between the two parties.
And that’s not all. While the patient is for the most part still a single person, the provider has yielded to a team concept, rather than remaining a single individual. This multidisciplinary team is often comprised of one or several physicians and other ancillary healthcare providers, such as nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, physical therapists, health educators, and health coaches. This team is responsible for all aspects of a patient’s health and wellness. So while the historic responsibilities and accountabilities of the physician are now spread among several medical professionals, how is the role of the patient changing?
Patients are taking a much more active role in their healthcare, armed with much more knowledge than in the past. The internet is home to a wealth of information about health and wellness, a virtual treasure trove of information about diseases and conditions, as well as all manner of medications, surgeries, and preventive measures. Perhaps nothing illustrates this fact more than the revelation that diseases are the most frequently searched topic of the elderly.
Technology is also giving patients a tremendous amount of medical information, from smart phones and other wearable devices tracking health and fitness to sensors embedded within homes to monitor diseases. The newest iteration of the Apple Watch can now perform an EKG to determine atrial fibrillation and other cardiac rhythm irregularities. The ability to track fitness, diet, and sleep patterns is only the tip of the technological iceberg. We will all marvel at what’s to come in the next five to 10 years.
With all of this information at our fingertips, we must take greater responsibility and be accountable for owning and managing our health and wellness. Transparency is changing the healthcare landscape, not only with providers and hospitals, but with patients as well. It’s really past time for patients to get more engaged with their own healthcare. In many cases, our lives, or at least the quality of our lives, depend on it.
No longer should patients sit passively as their doctor tells them what to do. With an informed opinion from doing your own research, you’re better able to participate in the discussion on what lifestyle changes will fit your life, and what trade-offs you’re willing to undertake to optimize your health and wellness. A more active back-and-forth also challenges your health care professionals to bring their best ideas to the table and customize treatment plans to your unique needs. They are better, too, when armed with more information, just as they are when they can utilize the latest advances in diagnostic technologies.
So, yes, I really am responsible for my own healthcare. And it’s about time!