I was very taken with the quote from Robert Johnson (of the International Association of Patients Organisation) saying that “doctors should get down from their pedestals, but patients must get up from their knees.”
I don’t think anyone can appreciate the truth of this statement until they have been a patient themselves. Until recently, I had always been a fit healthy person. I had worked for years for the NCC – an organisation promoting consumer rights and so I thought I knew what “consumers” of the health service felt like. Then I joined the MAC partnership training and consulting about user empowerment in public services including health and I was even more sure that I understood what “user empowerment” meant. And, for the last few years, I have been an active member of the Patient Group at my GP surgery which added to my conviction that I understood what patients think and want. But it was not until I had serious health problems myself that I realised what it really means to be a patient. Then, for the first time I understood first hand the feeling of vulnerability and powerlessness that patients feel. Only then did I realise how easy it is for well meaning doctors to sound patronising when they talk to patients and to assume that it’s not worth making sure the patient understands their medical condition or has any say in their treatment.
Robert Johnson is right – the medical profession must start to treat patients as equals who should understand and participate in their health care and patients must find the confidence to respond as equals who have a valuable contribution to make to decisions about their own health and the health of the nation as a whole. Doctors must learn to share information with patients and to take time to make sure they understand the causes, current diagnosis and possible treatments for their particular and personal health issues. And patients must respond by listening, learning and sharing the responsibility for their own health and also for the difficult decisions about priorities, resources and treatment which face the NHS.
Glad I got that off my chest and, if it wasn’t so personal, I said I would write a blog. And so readers, I have.
The Moore Adamson Craig Partnership supports user and public participation, trains lay representatives and develops responsive health, care and education organisations. We are ready to work with and support all those who want to make sense and a success of the new structures of patient and public engagement within the new arrangements for health and social care commissioning and providing. Feel free to contact us to discuss the opportunities.