You, the Empowered Patient

Puja Thomson leads her discussion, "You, the Empowered Patient"

Puja Thomson began her discussion, “You, the Empowered Patient,” by introducing herself through the experiences that have shaped her perspective on healing. Through growing up in Scotland and living in the United States she has been exposed to two very different health care systems. The specialization of medicine in the United States has a tendency to disempower patients. The goal of “You, the Empowered Patient” is to help patients reclaim their power.    
Organize your Wellness Journey
Being empowered means taking charge of your medical challenge. Puja Thomson said, “As a competent adult, it is your legal responsibility to make decisions, not anyone else, including your doctor.” The audience received three handouts to help them organize their wellness journey. The first handout stressed the importance of preparing for a medical appointment and gave guidelines. The second suggested questions to ask your doctor during annual health visits. The third offered questions to ask your doctor when you don’t feel well, such as, “What is my diagnosis? What is my treatment? What should I do if symptoms worsen? Should I have a follow up appointment?” My Hope & Focus Organizer, by Puja Thomson, is a tool to simplify, track and support all aspects of your cancer experience. Puja Thomson is working on an updated version applicable to any illness.
The audience shared experiences and difficulties they have with their doctors and insurance companies. One of the audience members spoke about feeling intimidated when doctors used jargon they couldn’t understand. One attendee mentioned their grievance with the lack of communication between their doctors. It is important to speak up and ask your doctor to slow down and talk so that you can understand. Puja Thomson said, “Sometimes you must decide if a doctor who is impolite, but skilled, is right for you.” Audience members described feeling disempowered by insurance companies. Puja Thomson advised the audience to use their support system to help them read forms, “Do not sign anything you do not understand.” Consider your perspective on health care and what approach to medicine you are comfortable with. Healing depends on attitude, and your attitude improves when you trust your doctor.
Support Systems
         Support systems are essential to your wellness journey. “Don’t go it alone,” Puja Thomson passed on helpful advice she often received. You are especially vulnerable when you go to the doctor’s office feeling sick. It’s important to feel grounded. Having someone with you at an appointment can help you interpret what your doctor says and relieve the shock of a diagnosis. Several attendees spoke about their good experience with the apothecary in Saugerties as a support system in their community.
 Western culture stresses the use of reason and logic; intuition is often ignored. Trust yourself. Consider your own opinions as well as those of professionals, friends and family. Puja Thomson asked, “How much do you trust your intuition in determining the type of treatment and doctor that is right for you?” The responses varied, but everyone agreed on the importance of self-advocacy. To be an empowered patient you must be your own advocate. 

Picture taken with permission of audience members

Further Reading List:

How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman
After Shock: From Cancer Diagnosis to Healing, a step-by-step guide to help you navigate your way, by Puja Thomson
My Hope & Focus Organizer, by Puja Thomson

Written by Cynthia Stewart for Roots & Wings