In the first segment of our 3-part Empowerment series, I discussed why it’s so important for patients and providers to feel empowered, and how we can use the Internet as a way to stay informed on best current practices. Today, we look at an uglier side of our health care system based on the outdated beliefs that the health care provider is always right, and Western medicine has all the answers.
The United States is a great place to suffer a trauma. As Jess Glynne sings with Clean Bandit, “there’s no place I’d rather be” if, God forbid, I banged my head, fell off a cliff, or found myself bleeding to death after a crazy accident. I would trustfully place my life into the hands of the outstanding emergency medical care providers who specialize in putting people back together again.
Unfortunately, the US is not a good place to get sick, or to try to prevent illness. Except in trauma, Western medicine excels at suppressing symptoms, but it’s not so good at helping people to heal. (I define healing as coming back as strong or even stronger than before the illness or health issue developed.) Even worse, our health care system is rife with practitioners – from all ranks of medicine, both conventional and alternative – who believe that they know better than their patients. And rather than using information to empower their patients, they use fear, coercion, and sometimes force to manipulate their patients into “patient compliance”, making them go along with treatments that are expensive, not evidence based, and/or may cause harm to the patient.
I know these are strong words to use. The problem is, people contact me every week because they want options. They want to advocate for themselves but don’t know what to do. They question why their doctor is “requiring” that they or their child endure a treatment or intervention that might cause them harm, whether those treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, or supplements. They feel intuitively there must be a different way, but their provider is not providing them with any options.
We all know women who have had a terrible birthing experience because they were given synthetic oxytocin without their consent, and then had contractions from hell. Or the well-meaning but misinformed pediatrician or nurse who gives parents a major guilt trip because they want to space out their infant’s vaccination schedule from the regular 26 vaccines that American infants are supposed to receive in their first year of life. Or the cancer patient who is bullied into thinking that they will die if they don’t endure chemotherapy and radiation.
It’s the ugly side of our health care system, and it is hurting patients. It doesn’t feel good to talk about it, but patients need to know the truth, and providers need to face it. We need to step aside from our own egos and realize that we might not always have the right answer or the right treatment for patients.
And within this ugly side of our health care system, there are three big elephants in the room that we need to call out so that we can start to change the system.
Because as we all know, the system needs to change.
First of all, let’s debunk the myth that health care practitioners always know better and think about the fact that over 1000 people die every day as a result of medical errors in the American hospital setting alone.
Over 1000 people. 1000.
This does not take into account people who die outside of the hospital setting due to properly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, nor does it allow for serious preventable complications, such as having a bilateral mastectomy when oops, you didn’t actually have breast cancer.
That is a true story, by the way.
This issue is so serious that the Senate conducted hearings this summer to investigate why hospitals are the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer. Yes, 3rd. But you won’t find it on the CDC’s List of Top 10.
The second big problem with our health care system is that the research-practice gap remains a staggering 17 years. This means that it takes 17 years for new best practices in medicine to be adopted into regular practice.
That’s way too long. Imagine the millions of people who would benefit by better care if we could shorten that gap to 2-3 years. This is why I discussed the importance of the Internet in Part 1 of this series, Using the Internet to Empower Patients and Providers. The Internet offers a powerful platform for health care practitioners to stay up-to-date and provide top quality care, and it helps patients be more proactive in their conditions.
The third problem is that health care providers and governmental agencies are stubborn and continue to recommend treatments, interventions, and practices that are not evidence-based. Just take the concept of mandatory flu vaccines for health care workers. This is not an evidence-based practice. A highly esteemed Cochrane systemic review – the Harvard of research analysis – showed that influenza vaccinations confer no benefit to patients in long-term care settings, where patients tend to be frail, elderly, and immune-compromised, and the most likely to succumb to serious complications of influenza. And yet hospitals lose federal funding if their worker vaccination rates are less than 90%. Workers are forced to get the vaccine, wear a mask (another non-evidenced based practice that confers no benefit), or lose their job.
So it’s not just patients facing fear, coercion, or forced treatments. Health care workers suffer similar fates.
I propose a novel idea. Let’s get rid of the concept of “patient compliance,” which is really a veiled term for guilt-tripping patients into go along with what we think is best for them, even if the treatments are outdated or don’t improve patient outcomes. Instead, let’s partner as practitioners and clients. I’ve created a health care model based on collaboration, one that allows the client to integrate the best of conventional and alternative medicine in an empowering environment. I call it the collaborative empowerment model of care, and it has the potential to revolutionize health care.
There are concrete ways that patients and providers alike can become empowered participators in health care, and I’ll show you how in the third segment of this series. In particular, a newer role in nursing called the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) is equipping nurses with the necessary tools to help us change the system from within.