Why we need to become better patients

13 September 2023

In the last two years, patient referrals to family doctors have increased by 170 percent, while the WHO estimates that by 2035, the world will lack about 13 million doctors.

Exactly 7 months ago, we launched our patient communication software for primary care in Estonia and after rapidly onboarding over 10% of the Estonian market, we have since expanded to both Ireland and Romania. We have been in constant contact with our clients, and although I am extremely delighted to witness how we have been able to create a platform that helps nurses and doctors to reduce their workload and stress levels, be better organized and on top of patient communication, I fully understand that technology is not the only solution to the overburden problem we face not only in primary care but in the healthcare system as a whole. But what is the solution? One big part of the solution is that we need to become better patients!

A little context

In the last two years, patient referrals to family doctors have increased by 170 percent, while the WHO estimates that by 2035, the world will lack about 13 million doctors. A healthcare crisis of this scale will not be solved by more doctors or by creating more technological solutions, and sorry no, even AI won’t fix this. A problem of this level of complexity needs a more complex approach, and part of that approach is that we need to do our part as patients.

Taking Responsibility for Our Health

The global health landscape is riddled with preventable diseases, and while cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) stand out as a prominent example, the broader message remains clear: we must take responsibility for our well-being. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that approximately 17.9 million lives were lost to CVDs, constituting about 32% of all global deaths. These diseases, excluding genetic factors, largely result from unhealthy lifestyles, including poor dietary choices, sedentary habits, tobacco use, obesity, and stress.

Globally, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world's 8 billion inhabitants face premature mortality due to preventable illnesses. Many of the behaviours and choices that contribute to these diseases, such as unhealthy eating, lack of physical activity, smoking, and obesity, are within our power to modify.

It is essential to recognize that this responsibility transcends the realm of cardiovascular diseases. We cannot place blame on the medical system for being "broken" or incapable of curing us if we ourselves neglect our well-being. Our ability to safeguard our health and make necessary lifestyle adjustments serves as the foundation upon which the medical community can provide its expertise and support when needed. By prioritizing self-care and increasing our awareness of how to not just live longer, but healthier, we reduce the burden of preventable diseases across the spectrum.

The concept of patient responsibility

"Patient responsibility" refers to the role and obligations of patients in the healthcare process. The 3 key pillars of patient responsibility are:

  1. Self-Care: Patients have a responsibility to take care of their own health, which includes following prescribed treatments, taking medications as instructed, and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

  2. Active Participation: It's essential for patients to be active participants in their care, asking questions, and understanding their treatments and conditions.

  3. Respect: Just as patients expect to be treated with respect, they also have a responsibility to treat healthcare providers and staff with the same regard.

Being in constant communication with our clients who are mostly primary care clinics, we know their concerns and what they are mostly struggling with in their daily work when communicating with the patients. We have identified three recurring problems that contribute to the overburdening of the healthcare system:

  • Patients are treating nurses and doctors like servants. Patients expect all requests to be answered urgently and help provided as fast as possible. Even when it’s not urgent.
  • Patients, especially those in the 18 to 30 age group, often face challenges in effectively communicating with healthcare professionals. The often vague nature of their messages can hinder the healthcare process. For instance, receiving an email with a message like "I have a stomach ache" provides minimal information to the nurse or doctor, needing further inquiry by the nurse to gather essential details before they can offer any meaningful recommendations.
  • Moreover, many of the issues patients seek assistance for should ideally be resolved without requiring contacting a family physician. Simple concerns, such as managing a small fever for a couple of days, don't necessarily warrant a trip to the doctor's office. In such cases, patients can benefit from readily available information or guidance, saving both time and healthcare resources.

None of the above examples demonstrates the understanding of concepts like self-care, active participation in my own care or respect for myself or other people’s time and energy. 

The most extraordinary patients whose treatment has the best results are those who display the most powerful will to live. They take responsibility for their own well-being, and start working hard for their health and peace of mind. They do not expect doctors to initiate everything themselves, but rather treat doctors as team members, demanding from them the best expertise, technique, ingenuity, empathy and openness. But at the same time, exceptional patients are also empathetic and understand the difficulties doctors face.

Dr. Bernie S. Siegel, a surgeon and author

We should keep demanding better access to healthcare, better treatment options and conditions, but let’s not also forget our own responsibility in the treatment process.

Contact us to learn how we can help reduce admin burden in your practice.