Friday, May 03, 2013

Why aren’t patients better informed ?

It breaks my heart when I see how poorly informed patients are about their medical problem . I believe that patients need to become experts about their disease, so that they understand all their options and can select the best treatment for themselves , in partnership with their doctor. In this day and age , when there’s so much information which is so easily available online , then why are patients still so poorly informed ?

It’s not just a question of the digital divide or the lack of access to the internet ! It’s not just the uneducated patients, but often the well-educated ones ( who are online all the time) , who are pretty clueless about their  treatments.

The commonest excuse is - I don't know because my Doctor didn't tell me. This is the worldview of the passive patient – one who expects the doctor to do everything for them . When things go well , they are happy to place the doctor on a pedestal – but when things go badly , these are the very same patients who curse the doctor , and feel that he's a mercenary who is only interested in making tons of money and doesn't care about his patients . They feel frustrated when the doctor doesn't share information with them - are quite happy to blame the doctor for their own personal lack of initiative in finding out stuff for themselves,

In all fairness, there are patients who do try to get the information for themselves by doing their homework,  but they often get lost and confused because they are  not sophisticated enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. There's too much information out there , and because a lot of the information available online is unreliable or biased, they don’t know what to trust.

It’s true that doctors are partly to blame for the sad state of affairs . Enlightened doctors understand that it's in their best interest to make sure that patients have all the information they need - and they want patients to access this information . Clever doctors proactively provide information to their patients , to create loyalty and trust. However, most doctors are do bogged down in providing clinical care, that they are just not able to do this efficiently. However, as doctors get busier and busier , and more and more frustrated because of inadequate remuneration , and patients get more and more demanding, there is a lot of scope for creating information intermediaries who can provide reliable information to patients at their point of need . It makes a lot of sense for health insurance companies to invest in this space, to make sure that the information which the patient wants is available to them when they want it - preferably through their smartphone .

This information can be provided prior to the visit ( for example, for symptom analysis, to help the patient understand what the diagnostic possibilities are); while the patient is waiting in the clinic; and just after the visit ( when patients need help in translating what their doctor said !)

Health insurance companies can no longer think of themselves as just being financial service providers who will help to reimburse for medical expenses and provide financial assistance when the patient falls ill. This is a broken model . They need to be much more proactive and understand that their role is no longer just limited to illness care.  Enlightened health insurance company will focus on improving health care , and a very effective way of doing this is by making sure that patients are well informed. This is a big opportunity for clever entrepreneurs - and the good news is that lots of entrepreneurs are exploiting this.  Insurance companies need to invest in these, to help them improve their profitability !

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