By Michal Klau-Stevens
Two of the most powerful tools a patient has in the healthcare system are informed consent and informed refusal, and the key word in both of those phrases is INFORMED. You make good healthcare decisions that match your needs when they are based in scientific evidence and thoughtful consideration of your health requirements, emotional desires, and spiritual necessities. While you can gain clarity on the most of these with thought and introspection, the scientific evidence piece will usually require you to do some research.
There is plenty of information available online to give you an overview of whatever health condition you are facing, along with information about the benefits and risks of various treatment options available.
Except in cases of emergency, there is time to do research before making a medical decision, and it is wise to take the time to familiarize yourself with the science underlying your healthcare needs and to explore your options. Your doctor may not be aware of all your concerns, which include the emotional and spiritual ones as well as the physical ones, and may prioritize them differently than you would. Your doctor just might make different choices than you. To reconcile these differences in approach, you need to have a deep enough understanding of the medical aspects of your treatment that you can have a meaningful conversation about your care. You need to be prepared to ask specific questions and uncover any preferences or biases which would set you on a treatment path different from where you feel comfortable going.
PubMed, websites ending in .gov, and advocacy websites relating to your specific concern, such as the American Cancer Society, or the American Heart Association can offer high quality evidence-based information that is easy to understand. Newspapers, magazines, and personal blogs may vary widely in their reliability and should be used with caution.
You will bear the results of your treatment, not your doctor. That fact alone changes the dynamics of the decision-making process from a patient’s perspective. While your instinct may be to place the burden of choice fully onto your doctor because he or she is “the expert,” that may not be in your best interest. You are the expert on you, and you bring valuable assets to the process which should not be discounted. It is your right and responsibility to give your informed consent or refusal to any test or procedure your doctor suggests as part of your treatment. As with any other right or responsibility, it takes effort on your part to fully benefit from it. It’s worth the effort, and your health depends on it.
Michal Klau-Stevens is a professional speaker and healthcare consumer advocate. She is a maternity consultant, pregnancy coach, and expert on consumer healthcare care issues, Past President of BirthNetwork National, a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and mother. Her website is TheBirthLady.INFO. Find her on LinkedIn and on Facebook at The Birth Lady page!