When physicians are ready to promote patient empowerment / engagement, what do we want them to do?

This question was posed to me by Ann Barber, MD, who I just spoke with. Ann reached out to me because she has been following the work of the group at e-patients.net, and specifically their call to recruit physicians to support the patient empowerment movement. Ann is an internist who specializes in hospital medicine, and has recently relocated to New York.

Ann asked me the question in the title of this post, and in talking with her, I decided to ask it here as well, because I’m unsure of the answer.

I wondered if this is because I/we have assumed that the majority of physicians are not interested in empowering patients, and therefore we don’t know how to support those that are?

I did a mini-check in with myself on this, and although I have alluded to some physician groups still feeling challenged by the idea of patient empowerment on this blog, the majority of my writing here points to the idea that physicians are very interested in empowering patients, because they want to perform well for them. The overwhelming majority of my posts here point to that idea, and here’s just one example.

Back to the question – where should a physician start when they have the energy and drive to make a difference in this area? When they interview for positions, what vocabulary should they use to describe what they are looking to do? How do they find the institutions in their communities that are already forging ahead in this area? If there are no institutions identified, how do they find the ones that are open to new ideas/thinking in this area?

My suggestion was to walk the hallways of any potential medical center employer and observe and ask questions – how are patients and families involved in their care? Do nurses and doctors round at the bedside (like they do at Medical College of Georgia, and hospitals in the Kaiser Permanente system [article in Harvard Business Review describes this] )? Are there visiting hours? How does the institution keep families and informed throughout a hospital stay?

I recommended a few resources, including the Wachter’s World Blog, written by hospitalist expert Bob Wachter, MD, the Institute for Family Centered Care, to find institutions in a community that are practicing patient and family centered care in New York, and of course, HelloHealth in Wlliamsburg.

I think the inpatient setting is the next frontier of patient and family involvement in their care, enabled by technology, and welcome the creativity of Ann and other hospital medicine specialists who want to make a difference for patients and famlies everywhere, which is why I wanted to think about this more.

Are there other ideas for Ann and the physicians in our profession who are among the “already recruited?”, in New York (and beyond)? Post them in the comments, please!

And thanks to e-patients and all the patients who have made it easy to remember who I am accountable to.