The times, they are a-changin’.
Gone are the days where you are expected to be a passive patient, one who follows recommendations from their doctor with blind trust. One who has not had much say in regards to decisions about their own health.
On the other hand, an active patient is one who is on top of their health and everything that goes along with it. They keep good records of their medical history, symptoms, medications, and more. They know exactly the right questions to ask and what information they need.
Nowadays, it's easier than ever to take a more active role and get involved with your own healthcare. With so much information out there on the internet. and most medical records being electronic, there's never been more options to find a treatment that works for you.
You have all of the power in your hands to do your own research about your medical diagnoses, medications, testing, and so on. You can (and should) be your own advocate and arm yourself with as much information as possible. We like to think of it as self-driven healthcare.
Are you a passive patient? What steps can you take to take a more active role in your health?
What is a passive patient?
A passive patient is someone who does things exactly as they are told to do by their physician or provider. They blindly follow orders to take a pill, have a test done, have surgery, and more.
“Isn’t that what I am supposed to do?”, you might ask.
Not exactly. Being such an obedient patient has actually come to be viewed as a bad thing.
The passive patient does not know why they are taking a particular pill, does not know the side effects of the medications he or she takes, and does not give an accurate account of his or her state of health and health history. In general, the passive patient does not know what’s going on.
Back in the day, and you may be old enough to remember this, people had very strong relationships with their family doctor. This would be the person that treated all of your ailments, came to see you in the hospital, and took care of your entire family.
Unfortunately, that type of relationship is a thing of the past.
Many family and primary care providers don’t stay in the same place for long and care is now often divided among a multitude of specialists. And when you see a doctor in the hospital, it is unlikely you will ever see that person in the outpatient setting. So you have a lot of cooks in the kitchen without a head chef.
The passive patient just keeps on rolling with the punches and does everything that they are told without ever really knowing why.
Why is it bad to be a passive patient?
We’ve established that passive patients, in general, don’t really know what is going on in regards to their own healthcare.
“My doctor has it handled,” you might say. “I don’t need to worry about anything.”
Let me give you a few examples of why this way of thinking is harmful.
Let’s say you take a handful of pills each morning, not knowing their names or what they do to your body. One day, you begin to notice that you are having bothersome muscle aches in your legs. You don’t know what this is from; is it from exercise, maybe dehydration? No, it’s actually from one of your medications, Lipitor, which has a common side effect of muscle aches. How would you know this if you don’t know what side effects to look for in your medications?
How about you are in the hospital, perhaps in a city you are just traveling through. Say you have had a horrible allergic reaction to Tylenol in the past but the hospital doesn’t know this. Maybe you forgot to mention this or are not able to communicate and they give it to you anyway. You can suffer a severe injury or die.
Perhaps you have a primary care provider and also see a gastroenterologist who are not affiliated with one another. Your primary care provider might assume your gastroenterologist is going to order your colonoscopy screening and vice versa. Now, this has fallen through the cracks and you don’t get the test done because you don’t know you need it. Perhaps it will be too late by the time you do get it done.
Maybe your wife or husband sets out all your medication out for you and is on top of what’s going on. That’s a good thing, right? Not to be all doom and gloom, but what if something happened to your husband or wife? What if they leave you? Then you are stuck, still not knowing what is going on.
There are so many scenarios where being a passive patient leads to unfavorable outcomes. Don’t let this happen to you.
What is the alternative to being passive?
Simple, take a more active role in your healthcare to become an active patient.
Being an active patient means you are in the driver’s seat, you are your own case manager. If you don’t take charge and advocate for yourself, then who will?
To be an active patient, you don’t need any medical training. Heck, you don’t even need to be that smart. You just need to become engaged, informed, and active in your own care. A positive, go-getter attitude is a good place to start. This type of open mindedness and enthusiasm will help you get to your goal of finding the best treatment for you.
Ask questions, do your own research. Don’t worry about coming off as ‘the difficult patient’ because that is not what this is about.
Your provider wants you to speak up, ask questions, and keep open, honest communication. If you don’t understand something, say so. At the end of the day, it is you alone who is responsible to carry out your treatment plan.
If you are facing the possibility of a serious surgery, you might consider getting a second opinion to get another viewpoint. This is totally acceptable in the healthcare world.
Also, if you don’t jive well with a provider, you are free to find another one who you have a good rapport with.
Healthcare is a team sport with one goal: to make you better.
What steps can you take now to be an active patient?
It’s in your best interest to take a more active role in your healthcare so that you know you are getting the best care.
Here’s what you can do today to get there:
- Keep a notebook of your symptoms, thoughts, questions and bring it with you to appointments so you don’t forget to tell your provider.
- Keep a list of your medications, strength, dosage, and a schedule of when you take them. Be sure to include herbals, supplements, and over-the-counter drugs.
- Keep a list of your past medical history, past surgical history, and allergy list (don’t forget reaction type).
- Know what significant medical problems run in your family.
- Educate yourself. It’s okay to research symptoms on the internet but make sure you are using reputable sources. Don’t rely on chat rooms and message boards for medical advice. Once you receive an actual diagnosis, you are free to do all of the research you’d like.
- Make sure your primary care provider and specialists are in communication. Hand-deliver your medical records to each office if you need to. Stuff like this often falls through the cracks.
- If your provider or hospital system allows you to view your medical records online, use it. These patient portals often let you look at test results, make appointments, request medication refills, send messages to your doctor’s office, and more. These are fantastic tools to take advantage of.
- Be aware of the age-appropriate screenings you need (colonoscopy, mammogram, pap smears, etc.) so that you don’t miss anything.
Get what you deserve
You are the captain of your own ship.
Healthcare has really become a team effort with you in the middle. The environment is no longer a patriarchal one. You have every right to be involved with the decisions being made about your care.
Take the actionable steps listed above today to take part in the self-driven healthcare movement. You have the power.
Meet the Author
Shannon is a nurse practitioner with an array of clinical experience. She is particularly passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. When she's not nurse practitioner-ing or writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. You can check out her blog at https://shannonthenp.com.