Stop Devaluing Your Patients! The Illusion of “Patient Centered” Care

In healthcare, we always talk about, “patient-centered care.”  I do believe healthcare organizations have the best intentions, however, in reality, I find just the opposite both in my work as a healthcare speaker / consultant and with my own experiences as a patient.

“Just a Patient”

I have been a healthcare professional for over 20 years, however in 1999 I became a patient after being diagnosed with Stage III Colon cancer (I am well today). After treatment was completed, I recall going to my oncologist’s office for a follow up visit. I was wearing a suit as I was on my way to a client meeting. In the office, I was talking to a pharmaceutical representative. During my conversation, a nurse ran up to the representative and said to him, “You don’t need to talk to him. He is just a patient.”  Immediately another nurse (who knew me), ran up to the nurse who made the comment and said, “I can’t believe you said that him! He teaches healthcare professionals how to communicate with patients and now he will use us as a bad example!”  The second nurse then said to me, “You aren’t going to mention this story, are you?”  I told her, “Of course I will not mention the story.”  Ha!

Are the people you serve, “Just patients?”

Discouraging Patients from Taking an Active Role in Their Care

In healthcare, we discuss patients being their own advocates and taking an active role in their care.  Once again, what is said and reality are often not the same.  In my work at coaching healthcare professionals, I have seen patients bring print outs from their Internet research, only to be told, “Don’t worry about the Internet, I know what is best.”

When patients come to you with Internet print outs, the first words out of your mouth should be, “THANK YOU!”  We need to encourage people to take an active role in their health, not discourage them.  The conversation should then follow up with a discussion of legitimate websites (e.g., NIH) versus quack websites.

Patients Matter

When I speak at healthcare events, I always position myself as a healthcare professional who also happened to be a patient.  For one event, I made the mistake of first discussing my patient experiences and then I saw just how poorly patients are seen in the healthcare system.  The meeting coordinator said to me, “How nice you want to share your story. However, this is a program for professionals only. No patients are invited.”  Even though I explained I was a healthcare professional, once they saw me as a patient, I immediately had no value. I felt like I was verbally patted on the head and told to “run along.”

Let’s stop talking about putting patients first and just do it!


Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication.  The Center focuses on increasing patient satisfaction and decreasing the risk of medical errors. We offer high-impact training, consulting and one-on-one coaching. Contact us today! or 1-800-677-3256


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2 Responses to “Stop Devaluing Your Patients! The Illusion of “Patient Centered” Care”

  1. doctorblue Says:

    It’s very refreshing to have a health care professional acknowledge the indignation patients endure during their doctor visits. I often feel like I am in a parent-child (the patient as child) relationship with mainstream medical doctors who have oh so many ways of evading patient questions. I found they really don’t have the answers or have so deluded themselves into believing the crap they tell patients having repeated it so many times. If you’d like some examples of poor patient-doctor interactions, check out the many posts on my blog: Unlike you, after many years trying to get appropriate medical care, I became disabled. The quest for competent medical care is on going. This is all needless because I know what’s wrong with me and what medical care I need to get well. The problem is convincing mainstream medical doctors to consult medical research doctors (who aren’t licensed to see patients). But you can’t convince any doctor about what he doesn’t know. The doctors I saw would all rather refer you to another incompetent doctor than take the time to learn anything new. So now in my 50s instead of contributing to the tax base, I’m drawing from it in Social Security Disability and Medicare benefits. Tell me, what good is insurance if you can’t find a doctor competent in what ails you?

  2. K.D. Says:

    Having studied physician patient relationships and experiencing as a caregiver some of the indignities that can occur to people attempting to get consultations with physicians (especially the elderly), I can truly understand and sympathise with the previous comments. I will check out Doctorblues website. I knew some wonderful physicians growing up…MDs who answered the phone at all hours of the night and truly tried to help. As an adult I have had fewer and fewer experiences like that. As a healthcare communication specialist, I hope I can make some difference.

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