Patient Care: Why You, the Patient, Are the Most Important Part of the Health Care Team

Do you feel you are the most important part of the medical (health care team)?

In a recent post on Healthin30, "When Doctors and Nurses Work Together" I wrote about the team-based approach for caring and treating patients, and it addressed the relationship between nurses, doctors, patients and the importance of a multidisciplinary, team-based approach to patient care.

The health care team is comprised of a diverse group of specialized professionals, and the most important part of the medical team is the patient.

Subsequent to publishing this post, I received an email from an author and patient advocate stating that patients are not the most important member of the medical team.

I value and respect this comment; however I politely and passionately disagree. As a registered nurse and consumer health advocate, I emphatically say that patients are the most important part of the medical team.

As health care professionals engage their patients with empathy, we can make them feel valued and respected, and by listening and communicating effectively with our patients we can develop a treatment plan specifically around their needs. Patients are the center and the most valuable part of the team. We need to involve them in their care and understand that they are the integral part of the health care team. We need to encourage them to be a proponent of their own health care. We need to let them know that it is okay to ask questions and to take charge of their health. Patients may have some self-doubt about questioning health professionals. They may feel uneasy and perhaps they may have difficulty expressing themselves, but we can offer reassurance and continue to encourage them to be proactive.

My Colleagues Speak Out
I asked a few of my colleagues to weigh in on this topic. They are:

  • Elizabeth Cohen, CNN senior medical correspondent and author of The Empowered Patient"
  • Kevin Pho, M.D., primary care physician and founder KevinMD.
  • Donna Cryer, J.D., patient advocate, known as "DC Patient" and CEO of Cryer Health.
  • Carl R. Sullivan, M.D., professor and vice-chair of the Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry at West Virginia School of Medicine, Medical Director of Substance Abuse Programs at the West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, WV.

Patients Know Their Bodies And Their Illnesses

Patients know their bodies and their illnesses, and know when something's gone wrong. Empowered patients can communicate changes and observations that can make a real difference in their medical care. To have their voices heard, patients have to speak up! This might sound obvious, but many times patients are intimidated, or sometimes bewildered, by the medical world around them. Also, it can be hard to speak up if the doctor or nurse is perceived to be rushed and ready to move on to the next patient. In 'The Empowered Patient,' I urge patients to realize there are times they absolutely have to advocate for themselves or their loved ones. Their lives, or the life of someone they love, may depend on it.

--Elizabeth Cohen, CNN senior medical correspondent and author of The Empowered Patient

The Patient Is The Biggest Stakeholder

It's important for doctors and other medical providers to listen to the most important member of the health care team, the patient. After all, there is no bigger stakeholder. Involving the patient in the decision making process is essential, to both better the patient outcome and improve patient experience.

--Kevin Pho, M.D., primary care physician and founder of KevinMD

Patients Hold The Ultimate Responsibility Of Selecting The Right Team Members

Patients are the sine qua non of health care. Not without which there is no purpose of spending all this time, money and effort. Patients are the most affected by the success or failure of the medical team. Patients hold the ultimate responsibility of selecting the right team members, determining the primary objective based on their lifestyle and values, adhering to the treatment or recovery plan, and persisting, enduring until the team has reached the end of their work.

--Donna Cryer, J.D., CEO of CryerHealth and patient advocate, DC Patient

Patient Care Is At The Heart Of Everything We Do

Patient care is at the heart of everything we do, says Dr. Sullivan. He refers to this quote from Norman Cousins, 1989 that speaks volumes.

People go to doctors out of fear and hope -- fear that something may be wrong, but hope that it can be set right. If these emotional needs don't figure in the physician's approach, he may be treating half the patient. The question is not now -- any more than it has ever been -- whether physicians should attach less importance to their scientific training than to their relationships with patients, but rather whether enough importance is being attached to everything involved in effective patient care.

--Carl R. Sullivan, M.D., director of addictions programs at the West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, WV

Your Turn -- Do You Feel Like An Empowered Patient?
We would love to hear your insightful thoughts. Do you feel that you are the most important part of the medical (health care team)? What are your experiences? Do you consider yourself an empowered patient? Do you take charge of your health? Have there been times when you were afraid to speak up? Are you involved in the decision making process with your health care professionals?

Putting patients needs first and allowing them to be the focal point and at the center of the team will foster a better patient relationship and better outcomes. By being empathetic, listening and communicating and understanding that patients are the most important part of the team; health care professionals can create a treatment plan that correlates with patients needs. Every patient is the most important member of the health care team.

Please share your experiences so we can all learn to be better at what we do.

As always, thank you for your time.

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Rules of Patient Engagement: How to Deeply Connect with Empathy

When Doctors and Nurses Work Together

Empowered Patient: Bring a Family Member or Friend with you to Your Doctor's Appointment

Doctor-Nurse Relationship: How to Energize and Engage the Doctor and Nurse Team

Doctor-Patient Relationship: How Patients Can Help Enhance Communication

After 40 Years, Patients Still Crave Attention and Respect