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When I describe the concept of participatory medicine, people who work in the healthcare industry often confuse it with other change initiatives, like social determinants of health or better access to care.  It’s a different story when I describe participatory medicine to people who are “pure patients”, i.e. people who interact with the health system only as patients or caregivers.  Pure patients uniformly respond with words of encouragement and with a story of their own about a difficult healthcare situation where often they weren’t respected or weren’t heard or weren’t understood.

Those reactions of pure patients reflect why the Society for Participatory Medicine is dedicated to changing the culture of healthcare relationships so people can have their very best health.  It’s proven that when there is respect, listening to and consideration of patient needs, their preferences, and circumstances, that magic happens—patients understand better; treatment plans are formulated better; outcomes are better; costs are lower; satisfaction is higher for patient and clinician.

Getting that magic to happen depends in part on things like addressing social determinants of health, making shared decision-making a standard of care, and solving the myriad  access issues that exist in healthcare, from the digital divide to the overall cost of healthcare.  But that won’t fix everything.

After access enhancements are common, like transportation vouchers to help people get to their medical appointments, reliably affordable health plans are available, and digital divide has been bridged—when all those other miles of change are traveled and those changes embedded, there will still be a patient and a doctor in an exam room. If what happens between clinician and patient doesn’t evolve to embrace participatory medicine principles, the full value of all those other enhancements won’t be realized.

Broad use of the principles of participatory medicine by patients and clinicians could be the health system’s last mile of reform. Clinicians who follow participatory medicine principles will understand that above all, they must be worthy of and earn their patient’s trust.  Too often today, patients must demonstrate that they are worthy of the care the clinician presents, which is the wrong way around.  The clinician earns the patient’s trust by engaging the patient as an equal partner in every way – by educating, listening to, consulting, and honestly partnering with the patient.

Patients have responsibilities too.  They must be more than passengers in the process of their health care.  They must actively drive their own health and wellbeing by learning and acting on sound advice, by being forthright with their clinicians, raising questions, and relaying their values and situation.  The participatory patient understands that his or her best health happens with a clinician who is a trusted partner, and when they work together.

I believe that the final mile of health care system change, participatory medicine, will dramatically transform how we give and receive health care for the best and will better the value of other health system innovations for us all.

Mary Hennings is Chairperson, Society for Participatory Medicine.  She is a senior healthcare executive with 35+ years of broad health care experience. Her expertise is in formulating and implementing product and organizational innovations that deliver desired business results while supporting better care, coverage, and customer experiences.

Experience for yourself the power of participatory medicine at SPM’s Creative Learning Exchange, Advancing Health Equity Through Participatory Medicine.  Buy virtual or in-person tickets here:  Thanks!


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