Who is an Empowered Patient?

Empowered patients know that they are responsible for their own health, health decisions, and will assertively demand the health care they deserve.

 I am an Empowered Patient – and I am at Stage 4 (see below) – but I don’t expect I will remain there at all times.  It is virtually impossible to remain an empowered when you are very ill.  If you’ve had a very nasty case of the flu, you’ll know what I mean.  When you ache all over, you’ve got a fever, and maybe have your head in the toilet, you need someone who’ll take over, ask the right questions, and keep the day-to-day living going.

When you’re very ill, you need to know that someone you trust will be empowered on your behalf.  This person can be a family member or a friend.  As an empowered patient they know your healthcare history or know how to access it (the envelope on the fridge) – see, “You’ve discussed your health and end-of-life wishes – even if you haven’t made up an Advanced Directive.  You trust this person with your life… literally.  See more in selecting your Representative.

Guidelines for the Empowered Patient

The Empowered Patient is a partner in their own health care!

  • If Doctors see that you are actively using preventative measures to maintain your health, if you are following your health care regime, and you are complying by taking your medications as ordered, most doctors, nurses and other health professionals will continue to be good partners in your care.
  • If they see that you expect them to do all of the work, doctors may not spend the time with you that you need – and may even dismiss you or deny you care.

The Empowered Patient never assumes that no news is good news!

  • Always return for follow-up after tests – even when you’ve been told you’ll be called if there’s a problem! 
  • It’s your responsibility to make sure your doctor has looked at your results.

I once had a heart patient who had extensive coronary artery disease and he was shocked because he’d gone for cholesterol blood work every year and his doctor hadn’t said anything.  When he questioned his doctor admitted to not paying attention to the elevated results and not discussing them with the patient.

Recently I had food allergy lab work done.  I didn’t immediately follow-up with my GP because I knew I would be seeing him in a couple of months for medication refills.  When I asked him for the results he was surprised that there were several positive results – and that the report had found his way to my file without him signing off on them.  This lapse had no major implications for my health but it reinforced that paperwork and important findings slip between the cracks.

The Empowered Patient avoids Walk-In Clinics

  • If you frequently use a walk-in or urgent care clinic – especially if you use more than one – you won’t be able to establish a good relationship with a general practitioner. There will be gaps in the picture of your health and the inability of your doctor to “connect the dots”.  You might have lab work done by the walk-in clinic, and a copy might even be sent to your doctor, but he’s under no obligation to look at the results.  And, should you need to go to a specialist or the hospital your file will be incomplete.  This can have serious consequences for your health.
  • On occasion, using a walk-in clinic is unavoidable when you have not found a family doctor or you can’t get an appointment with your family doctor for an urgent matter. A walk-in clinic is a wiser choice than going to an Emergency Department IF you have symptoms that are not life threatening. 
  • If you must use a walk-in clinic be extra diligent about obtaining any test results and treatments ordered: keep these for your files and review them with your family doctor as soon as possible.

The Empowered Patient takes the initiative to follow up on referrals and testing

  • Don’t wait for the specialists’ office or the testing clinic to call you! At the very least, find out who you’ve been referred to and phone to make sure they received your referral.  It is my experience that a full third of faxed referrals from GP’s offices are not processed in a timely manner.
  • It can take many months to see a specialist – you can ask your doctor’s office assistant to call to see if there’s a date – & pass along the message you’re available for cancellations.
  • If you haven’t heard anything after a month, feel free to call the specialist’s office directly—especially when your health is on the line.


The number one cardinal rule… The Empowered Patient ALWAYS treats those caring for them with dignity and respect!


Stages of Patient Empowerment

Stage 1:

  • Realize that your health is your most precious gift
  • Follow sound medical advice to the best of your ability (when the advice makes sense and is intuitively correct)
  • Work at your treatments and improving your health
  • Be willing to ask for – and even assertively demand – that your voice is heard

Stage 2:

  • Look after and consistently care about your body and mind
  • Practice preventive medicine as the best medicine
  • Do your own research and take this information to your health care providers when necessary

Stage 3:

  • Diet, health, fitness and emotional well-being are at the top of your priority list because you know that without physical and mental health you will not perform at the top of their game or be of full support to others.
  • You are aware that while many diseases have a genetic component, the environmental and emotional ‘switch’ to turn these diseases on is in your control.
  • You realize that life and health can change in the blink of an eye and you’ve thought and planned for things going wrong:
    • Health & life insurance (See, “Planning Ahead for the Financial Effects of Illness.”)
    • Preparation of an advanced directive and representation agreement (See, “Advanced Directives and Representation Agreements.”)
  • When things go wrong due to illness or injury, you are a highly empowered patient and you know you are ultimately responsible for regaining your health.
  • If you are seriously ill or injured, your representative is fully aware of their wishes and is able to step in and be their eyes, ears and voice.

Stage 4:

  • You are on a quest to constantly upgrade your knowledge about your own health and may be ready to help others with their health (healthcare and fitness vocations)

Regarding Stage 4, I want to note that I see a lot of people who are healthcare professionals who are not empowered patients.  I have come to believe that you can’t be an advocate for others if you are not an advocate for yorself.   And, there is a massive difference between working in healthcare and being able to stand up for the patients you care for.  Sometimes, that difference can be the fine line between life and death.

I have seen cruel and belligerent nurses bully their patients until they were quivering and cowering.  They were not empowered caregivers.

Did you read in “Why We Need to be Empowered Patients,” where I described Karen’s avoidable death?  The nurses and doctors who were looking after her in the last few hours of her life were not empowered.  We presume that the nurses were cowering to the doctors – doctors who could not be bothered to go the extra mile and immediately get to the bottom of her increased symptoms.  They weren’t empowered caregivers.

I’ve witnessed a housekeeper call a cardiac arrest when she was cleaning floors – “It’s not my job” wasn’t part of her vocabulary.  I watched a tiny volunteer subdue an angry, delusional patient by offering her arm and quietly walking him to his room.  They were extremely empowered caregivers – even when it went far beyond their job description.  And, I would bet that they were also empowered patients.

Being empowered can be hard work.   But it’s worth it – I promise!

Step up to Empowerment. Attend a Patient Pathways event or book a seminar at your workplace or organization.

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