Self-education – the challenges patients face
It seems that empowering the self-informed patient is a hot topic in health in the UK at the moment. We have witnessed several educational campaigns on spotting symptoms as signs for a serious disease, and encouraging patients to seek out their doctor early when symptoms arise. More and more patients are taking action and driving their own healthcare – and we have seen successful outcomes as a result.
However, while there are obvious benefits, there are various challenges that patients face, with the vast amount of information available to them through the internet, educational campaigns and the media. How can patients effectively educate themselves in the right way, without being overwhelmed, confused and increasingly anxious about their health?
The infinite wealth of information on the Internet makes it difficult for patients to pick out what is important to their health. This can lead to “self-diagnosis” where patients are convinced they have a serious disease and work themselves up before speaking with their doctor. Patients must be able to take the information they collected, and use it effectively to discuss the possibilities of their symptoms with their doctor.
Similarly, educational campaigns such as this Be Clear on Cancer campaign for ovarian cancer, have shown to be an effective way of informing patients of the importance of speaking to a doctor when symptoms arise. While patients must not ignore symptoms and seek out their doctor early, there is also a risk of being too vigilant and over-sensitive to symptoms, especially if widely common symptoms such as persistent bloating can be a sign of any number of less serious illnesses other than ovarian cancer. Therefore, we must be able to find the balance between taking action with our health and minimising health-related anxiety. It is more important than ever, with limited time (a GP consultation in the UK is 10 minutes) and resources, that patients form trusting partnerships witch their physicians and discuss their conditions in a two-way and open-minded manner.
And it’s not just pre-diagnosis – patients are encouraged to research their condition, once diagnosed by their GP, and educate themselves on how they can manage their illness, whether it’s through diet, exercise or various other lifestyle changes, as well as speaking to other clinical experts or further discussing certain aspects of the disease with their healthcare team.
Self-education is not all plain sailing – the rapid and constant influx of information means that patients will need to learn how to digest it and pick out what’s relevant to them, in order to take the reins on their health, without causing unnecessary worry.