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Helping Patients Take Responsibility for their Health


As physician assistants we understand that each patient is primarily responsible for his or her own health and treatment; that truth affects our work every day.  It can be easy for us to forget that this is a relatively recent change in understanding.  Many of our patients yet have an underlying assumption that their physician is the main player accountable for their health, while understanding that ultimately they are responsible for themselves.


For many, the increasing access we now have to new information, particularly on the Internet, reinforces how patients experience this personal responsibility for their own health.  With just a few clicks, anyone with access to the web can find potential new treatments, potential new diagnoses, benefits and side effects of specific treatment options.  They can also find the results of clinical trials, new research, and even blogs written by patients with similar symptoms.


Some patients are liberated by their access to information, and spend a great deal of time and effort researching their many options.  Some can feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by their many choices.  Others become focused on staying current with the most recent information.  Others still continue to expect physicians, and physicians’ assistants, to take responsibility for them.  


For each of them, their personal responsibility for their own health and their ability to gather so much new information can affect the way they relate to their physician, their physicians’ assistant, and to specific aspects of their health care.


At the same time, these changes in patients’ expectations and experiences also affect our work.  We have increased opportunities to help patients navigate the sea of information at their fingertips, and to counsel them as they recognize and meet their own responsibilities.


What are some of your experiences and challenges with these opportunities?  How have you helped patients take responsibility for their own health and treatment?  


Even further, what creative ways have you seen patients use to locate and assimilate the information they have?  What is the most effective way you have found to help patients meet their responsibilities for their own health? 

[image by a.drian]

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