Traditionally, the term patient education refers to the act of doctors teaching patients about their disease. However, it could as well refer to an equally important activity - one in which patients teach doctors about their illness !
Why don't more patients educate their doctors ? This kind of patient education has a long and respected history ! While writers have shared what it's like to be a patient for hundreds of years, one of the most important books which taught doctors to re-look at things from the patient's perspective was Norman Cousin's classic, Anatomy of an Illness.
In fact, there is now an entire a genre of books which does this very well. This is called pathography - a " narrative that gives voice and face to the illness experience, by putting the person behind the disease in the forefront " !
Pathography is a very useful teaching tool ! It helps doctors to learn empathy, so they can learn to see things from the patient's perspective ! For example, though I am an IVF specialist, I am not infertile myself. By reading first person accounts of the trials and tribulations faced by infertile couples, I learn a lot about the difficulties my patients have to deal with - stuff they may not be willing to talk about when they meet me for the first time .
All doctors learn medicine from their patients. They usually remember their most technically challenging patients or their most complex and difficult cases. It's true that these exceptional patients teach us a lot and good doctors treasure these exceptions , because they learn the most from them. These are a doctor's " memorable " patients - many of whom teach us what not to
Good doctors learn from patients all the time, but this can only happen if patients are willing to teach them ! These are the " expert patients" - those who are articulate and treat their doctors as partners in their medical care.
However, doctors can learn from all patients - if only they would learn to speak up , and we would learn to listen . Patient feedback helps doctors to improve their services - and even complaints are gifts, when taken in the right spirit !
Unfortunately, there are still many barriers to getting feedback from patients. Most patients are inhibited and scared and do not have the courage to displease their doctor by telling him the unpleasant truth. Similarly, most doctors are too busy to ask for feedback - and most continue deluding themselves that they do a perfect job with every patient !
Hopefully, the internet will allow patients to offer critiques and criticism more easily. There are now many doctor - rating websites, where patients are encouraged to provide their opinion about their doctor. This kind of patient- generated content will help doctors to get their act together, if they are willing to keep an open mind and try to correct problems.
If patients want their doctors to do a better job, they need to learn to speak up. Most dis-satisfied patients today just walk out of the doctor's clinic and never return . They find a better doctor - but by failing to give the doctor frank feedback, they have lost an opportunity to help him to improve and do a better job with his next patient.
How will doctors learn , unless patients teach them ?