Patient Education - Can You Know Too Much?

Patient Education Should Enhance The Doctor-Patient Relationship

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Patient education is vital to good health care

Patient education is an important aspect of managing a chronic illness, such as arthritis. Patients are often encouraged to learn all they can about their disease, to become informed, and take a positive approach to managing their condition. But, being an informed patient is not a substitute for trusting your doctor.

  • Is it possible for a patient to know too much?
  • Is it possible that a patient can believe they are more knowledgeable than they actually are?

Patient education does not replace a proper diagnosis

Medical doctors are trained diagnosticians - experts at assessing a cluster of symptoms and results of diagnostic tests. Sometimes, as human nature would dictate, patient education breeds amateur diagnosticians. Patient education can empower patients in a good way, but beware because too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Patients can consume health information that they don't totally understand. Overlapping symptoms, symptoms which fit more than one condition, can cause confusion. Patients may be prone to create and present theories to their doctor, rather than merely presenting detailed symptoms.

  • Example 1: Doctor, I have had a sharp pain in my hip for 2 weeks. The pain is worse after activity and is relieved following periods of rest.
  • Example 2: Doctor, I have pain in my hip and I think it's arthritis. My neighbor has arthritis.

    In Example 1, the patient is very specific in describing the type of pain (dull, sharp, or ache) and specific about the duration of the symptom and when it occurs. The doctor has useful information which will lead to more questions and the proper diagnostic testing. In Example 2, the information is vague and the thinking is disconnected.

    Use patient education in positive ways

    To be a partner in your own health care and be able to use patient education in a positive way:

    • Always give full details of the symptoms you are experiencing when you consult with your doctor.
    • Learn about your disease or medical condition. Patient education will help you understand the decisions and direction your doctor offers.
    • Learn about treatment options and medications. Patient education regarding treatments and medications will inform you about the expected benefits -- and help you recognize possible drug side effects and adverse events.
    • Discuss all issues and concerns openly with your doctor. Your doctor is most effective if all pertinent information is disclosed. Your medical history is as valuable a diagnostic tool as a newly ordered test.
    • Present your doctor with all of your questions. Do not make the mistake of thinking you know an answer before discussing a specific concern with your doctor. Do not leave your doctor's office with unanswered questions.
    • Be a compliant patient. Recognize that you and your doctor are indeed a team working towards the same goal - managing your condition.
    • Be honest. Your doctor can only work with the facts. If you didn't take your prescribed medication as directed, don't pretend you did.

    Patient education is for better understanding

    It may be time to find a new doctor if you feel you are smarter than your doctor and are unable to build good rapport. Consider, though, that patient education may have improperly empowered you.

    • Recognize that patient education is for the purpose of better understanding.
    • Patient education must not diminish the role of your doctor who ultimately must lead, direct, and decide the best course of medical treatment for you.

    In the end, you must be able to trust your doctor and respect his advice. It is with that trust and respect that you build a strong doctor-patient relationship.

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