Monday, May 2, 2011
Book Review: The Empowered Patient
I recently finished Elizabeth Cohen's The Empowered Patient: How to Get the Righ Diagnosis, Buy the Cheapest Drugs, Beat Your Insurance Company, and Get the Best Medical Care Every Time.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who will ever see a doctor. Which I hope is everyone.
I have to say that Elizabeth Cohen has a special place in my heart with this book, partly because her commitment to empowering patients stems from her experiences with preeclampsia (you can read a bit about my own experience with preeclampsia here and here). Cohen almost died as she waited in a hospital bed to see a doctor after her first daughter's birth, and waited to have a medication administered. Her husband eventually advocated for her by, in her words, going to the nurses' station and "quietly, politely [going] berserk." A few years later, after her third preeclamptic pregnancy, she found herself advocating for her tiny newborn daughter in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) who was about to receive an unnecessary spinal tap.
Her book gives practical information on how to become an empowered patient and even includes work sheets you can utilize in understanding your treatment plan for simple and complicated medical issues. She also includes resources for checking out your doctor, looking into medications (including new options), how to find contact information for a doctor with expertise specific to your ailment, and oodles of anecdotes and statistics to give you confidence.
For the most part, Cohen remains respectful of the training and expertise that doctors have. I think this is important - to recognize doctors' years of schooling and training, and their commitment to the health and well-being of their patients. It's also important to recognize that they are human; they each bring their own biases, preferences, and interests (in the sense of what aspects of medicine/health they are interested in) to the exam table. Some keep up with current research better than others, some navigate the draw of drug reps with ease while others are a bit more charmed and still others band drug reps from their offices, some are extremely risk-averse while others are comfortable with small gambles (hopefully with the informed consent of the patient!).
Though I think, after years and years of regular medical care, that I have learned many of the lessons in this book through trial-and-error and practice, I found value in this book by its reinforcing my medicine-related habits. It also reaffirmed my confidence in my nephrologist, who has never poo-poo'ed my opinions (or the "stuff I read on the internet" - which Cohen does a great job of discussing), never rushed me out of his office, and has gone out of his way to be available as needed.
I do, however, wish I had read this book before my first pregnancy. Entering into a new arena, I had a hard time knowing what questions to ask as a high-risk pregnant patient. Trying to communicate from one medical specialty to another was quite difficult. I think this book would have helped me to formalize the information I was getting from each doctor and communicate information more concisely. It may also have led to my changing my medical "team" slightly.
I also saw much of my mother's story between the lines of this book and felt she would be alive today had she had this information.
Again, I recommend this book to anyone who will ever see a doctor - even if you are an unfortunately well-seasoned and empowered patient.