The educated, engaged and empowered patient

Medical science seems to progress by the day. Researches, studies and experiments are constantly throwing up new information on a range of illnesses and treatment forms. Where the doctor was once revered for his understanding of medicine, today, the huge number of information sources has diminished this aspect a bit. Studies have shown that a large number of patients have taken on the onus of being educated about their illness and being able to make informed decisions on the various courses of treatment provided to them and influencing outcomes as well.

A famous example of the how much of a difference being knowledgeable about your illness is, would be that of Andy Grove, the co-founder of Intel and his battle with prostrate cancer. A change of family doctors, saw him taking a routine medical to bring up-to-speed his new doctor on Andy’s health. A little known test called the PSA test revealed that Andy’s prostrate gland was producing a little more of the PSA antigen. He was therefore referred to a urologist to rule out the presence of a tumor.

Curiosity and good timing saw Andy speaking to a medical professional who happened to be doing his research on this particular test and its efficacy. The information that Andy gathered only led to him seeking out more information in the form of research and studies on the PSA tests and the accuracy with which it could diagnose prostrate cancer. A lot of information gleaning later, Andy concluded that this test could alert a person of prostrate cancer a minimum of five years before it could be diagnosed by other means. It therefore opens up a range of treatment options that would not have been possible at a later stage of the illness. Such early diagnoses could also bring down the chances of side effects that are common with surgeries and other forms of treatment for prostrate cancer.

Andy survived cancer, only to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s recently. Once again he has immersed himself and his vast funds into finding out all he can about the illness to pave a better way of treatment for other patients like himself.

Though not every one of us could be an Andy when it comes to illnesses, being well informed about your ailment can take you a long way. Depending on what your illness is, you will be able to understand how it progresses and what changes you can incorporate to help slow it down or reduce its symptoms. When you inform yourself about your illness, you will be in a better position to understand the treatment options given to you by your specialist. Your interactions with others who may have suffered a similar condition will give you a personal insight into what to expect and you could even learn from their mistakes. The information even helps you understand your symptoms better and convey the same to your doctor.

Technology and medical education are advancing so rapidly that there is every chance of a research being conducted somewhere in the world that has not reached your medical community yet. You could open new doors for yourself and for others.

What is important in being a well informed patient is that you get your information from the right sources. Getting them from established professionals and their works as well as from organizations that dedicate themselves to research in the medical field is a place to start. Patients with similar illnesses, support groups that deal with such patients and even families that may have gone through this can be of great help.

Empowerment as a patient comes from information. It allows you to take control of your illness rather than surrender to it.

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