Power to the Patient! continued...
"The first thing is defining your own values, then being willing to step up to the process of partnership [with your doctor]," he says. "You have to be willing to advocate for what you are looking for, to give feedback to your doctor -- to help your doctor help you the way you like to be helped. If someone just says they don't like the way I communicate, I don't have the chance to change. But if a patient tells me that I made a mistake and I respond to that, it is a moment of truth. I can build more trust than if I didn't make a mistake in the first place. So instead of taking the passive role of patient, people should be willing to play a more active role, and then see how the doctor is willing to respond.
"The point of this is for patients to use their power," Suchman continues. "Patients have a lot of power -- not total power, but what they have now has to get a lot stronger. But even at the individual level people have the power to change the kind of care that they get. People need to understand that they are the first person in charge of their health. It is not their doctor, not someone else. They must recognize this role and actively think about it."
All In The Family
Neuwirth stresses the importance of involving family members in the healthcare process, particularly when the patient is ill.
"When a family is involved in a patient's care, you have people who see what is going on, and that changes the relationship in a very positive way because the physician sees himself in a different way, as a part of a group," he says. "And besides, you can't do it all yourself. The family can take notes, ask questions, look up things."
In the end, Neuwirth says, the ability for patients and doctors to improve their relationship depends on whether the society as a whole values personalized healthcare.
"If we as a society think this is important, we should create the situation that makes this possible," he says. "Telling doctors they should be relating to patients when they have to see a patient every seven minutes is impossible. It's worse, it is dehumanizing. If clinicians are suffering and stressed and frustrated, there is no way they can deliver quality medical care and no way to deliver the care on which the doctor-patient relationship is centered.
"If you are angry and scared and overwhelmed and burned out, how can you offer caring and kindness and compassion and anything that resembles healing to another human being," Neuwirth asks. "So the question becomes, 'Is that what society really wants from its doctors -- or do we just want technicians, and to go elsewhere for real care?' If we don't just want technicians, but also people who are able to be healers, we have to tend to that."