"This medication makes me feel terrible all the time but my doctor said I have to take it."
"They told me I had to switch medications based on my insurance coverage."
The healthcare system as a whole feels large and looming, like a mountain whose shadow we stand in at all times. Changing the system? That feels like an incredibly daunting call to action. Where do we start? What actions matter most?
As patients, oftentimes we're not asked what we want or need, but instead told. Once we start questioning the system, it becomes an exhausting cycle of power struggles between departments, insurers, receptionists, and pharmacies. Feeling equipped and empowered to change things can be a challenge, depending on what health circumstances we're navigating at any moment, and when you're dealing with a health condition, adding "system change" to your to do list can be daunting.
But it's time to move out from under the shadow of that giant healthcare mountain. We might not be able to move it, but we can start to tunnel through it, drawing awareness to it and using small changes to help pave the way towards careful and kind care.
What small changes could you make during your clinical encounters in effort to up the empathy and empowerment quotient? One suggestion we heard was for a patient to wear a button that says, "Please look me in the eye" or "Ask me about my emotional health." Another suggestion we heard from a patient was to have the clinician ask, "How are you doing, and what are your goals for this appointment?" at the beginning of the appointment.
Resources like our Plan Your Conversation cards and the Reflection Document can help patients self-identify what information is important for their clinician to know and can assist in guiding conversations to put patient goals and clinician goals on equal footing from the outset.
Championing empowerment to people who think healthcare is something that happens to them is hard, but not impossible. We know the script seems set, but it is more flexible than you think. Tell one detail about your life that you normally wouldn't and the power dynamic can shift and equalize, pushing closer to careful, kind, and empathetic care.