Patient Choice in Healthcare Begins With Knowing There’s a Choice

When it comes to health care, the emphasis has shifted from a doctor-centered approach to one that relies increasingly on the patient.


Putting the patient in the driver seat of his or her own health mobile appears to be all the rage these days. Whether it’s being encouraged to eat right and get plenty of exercise or downloading an iPhone app that monitors your heart rate and blood pressure, the message is clear: When it comes to health care, the emphasis has shifted from a predominantly doctor-centered approach to one that relies increasingly on the patient.

Not too long ago it might have been considered sacrilege to question the authority of your doctor, other than to get the occasional “second opinion.” Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find patients asking as many questions of their physician as they might a prospective employee.

For instance, during a recent Good Morning America segment, women’s health specialist, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, suggested the following 5 questions be asked whenever your doctor recommends a particular procedure:

What’s the risk of the procedure?

What’s the risk of not doing the procedure?

What’s the benefit of the procedure?

What’s the benefit of not doing the procedure?

What are my options?

This last question is perhaps the most important, especially if a doctor’s recommendation – or the patient’s decision – is based on little more than a sense of “well, that’s just the way it’s always been done.”

According to Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, author of “Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health,” this approach may actually be doing more harm than good.

“The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don’t know what works,” writes Welch in a recent New York Times opinion piece. “Isn’t it time to learn which practices… improve our health, and which ones don’t?”

This is good advice. And yet, regardless of how much research is done, it’s possible the patient will still be left choosing between one drug-based procedure and another, never realizing that there might be an alternative. Which brings us back to that fifth and crucial question: What are your options?

Without question, many are choosing decidedly non-drug-based means to maintain their health, either in tandem with or in lieu of conventional medicine. In fact, according to a study done by the National Institutes of Health, nearly 40% of us are spending upwards of $34 billion – out-of-pocket – on complementary or alternative medicine.

Others are choosing a more thought-based approach, including meditation and prayer. Although on the surface it may seem like changing your thought – about yourself, about others, even the Divine – would have little impact on your physical well being, researchers are finding quite the opposite. In fact, they’re learning that qualities of thought such as forgiveness, compassion, and generosity can be learned and that even a subtle change of heart can have a measurable impact on a wide variety of physical conditions.

But still the question remains as to how such options might be made more widely known and utilized. Considering that three out of every four healthcare workers in the U.S. use some form of complementary or alternative medicine themselves, and that over half our doctors think that religion and spirituality play an important role in influencing health, maybe we’re not so far off.

We may still be in first gear, but at least the patient-driven health mobile is moving forward.

Eric Nelson is a Los Altos resident. His articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications, including The Washington Times. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. This article published with permission by Communities @WashingtonTimes.com.

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