I recently had a very interesting conversation with a senior doctor who was extremely skeptical about the value of empowering patients with information. In his opinion, it was no more than a fad which has the potential to open a Pandora’s Box of sorts. He believed medicine was a complex subject – after all, it takes years of full-time training to become a surgeon, so how can one expect patients to understand the nuances of their medical problems in a few minutes?
His words to me were- “Isn’t it far better for them to trust their doctor, who is the true expert, and who can help them heal quickly?” These were his concerns:
• He was very critical of patients who came with pages and pages of Internet printouts about their medical illnesses
• He felt they were often very confused and ended wasting a lot of their own time and his by wanting to discuss options and alternatives that did not make any sense
• He also felt that second-guessing just caused patients to doubt him
• His belief was that this loss of faith and trust would end up harming patients and doctors too
• In general, he was quite dismissive about “well-informed patients” who felt they had become “half-doctors” by reading and researching their medical problem online
• He believed that half knowledge can be dangerous, and patients who think they know a lot about their disease often created more problems than they solved, by challenging their doctor’s decisions
• He also highlighted the fact that doctors who aren’t used to having patients disagree with them, can often end up getting upset and angry with “well-informed” patients- this leads to a confrontational rather than a cooperative doctor-patient relationship
While everything he pointed out was true, it doesn’t mean that the concept of Information Therapy is incorrect and should not be encouraged. Like anything else, information can be used, misused and abused. In this respect, doctors can play a key role by ensuring that the information they provide their patients is reliable, updated, evidence-based and tailored to every patient’s needs. There are some distinct benefits to doing this:
• If every doctor prescribed information, the patients wouldn’t find the need to look elsewhere for it
• On many levels, this would create a win-win situation. The patient would also trust the information as it was coming from her doctor and would not be inclined to scour the Internet for clarification or answers (most of which could be potentially incorrect and inaccurate)
• The doctor would also be more confident that the patient was well informed and had realistic expectations of his medical treatment
• He would not get annoyed that his patients were trying to challenge him, and he would be more happy with providing additional information and treatment
What is Information Therapy?
• Information therapy can be defined as the prescription of the right information to the right person at the right time to help them make better health decisions
• The ‘right’ information is accurate because it is evidence-based, approved by experts, up to date, easy to read and understand, available in many different formats (including local languages and audiovisual formats) and referenced
• The ‘right’ person means this information needs to be delivered directly to the patient (and their caregivers). This information is best dispensed to a patient by her own doctor – the person she trusts the most when it comes to her health
• The ‘right’ time means the information should be provided when the patient needs it – that is, in time to help them make the best possible medical decisions
On the Right Path
There are a number of ways of delivering this powerful tool – it can be clinician prescribed, system-prescribed, or consumer-prescribed. At present, most patients get information through their own research. As mentioned earlier, most of this is unreliable and incorrect. It’s a fact that hospitals and medical centers that systematically implement Information Therapy applications will be in a better position to gain market share, profitability and prestige over those that don’t. Thanks to the Internet, we are also equipped with the technology needed to reach out to consumers- it connects anyone, anywhere, any time to quality information.
Things that Should Happen
These drivers create a compelling case for Information Therapy, which revolves around an expanded patient role. As healthcare evolves, the following should occur:
• Every clinic visit, medical test and surgery is preceded or followed by information-therapy prescriptions
• Information prescriptions should be sent between in-person visits; this will extend the continuity of care
Patients play an active role in shaping how they want information to be delivered to them. Information therapy is a very cost-effective solution that allows a doctor to put each patient at the heart of the care he or she provides.
As the renowned poet and writer Kahlil Gibran once said, “Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be”.
Back to Basics
It’s important to keep in mind that the word doctor is derived from the Latin word docere, which means to teach or instruct. When doctors don’t do so, we are abdicating our responsibility and forsaking our patients, who feel lost and are then forced to fend for themselves. We now have empowered consumers who demand time, information, control, service and a new focus on quality. The need of the hour is that doctors should guide their patients; and prescribing Information Therapy is a simple way of doing so.