Seeds of reform

Our entire structure of traditional medicine has been based the assumption that physicians have the most current information and the patient doesn't. Now, with the explosion of information on the world wide web, a patient can gain access to the same information, investigate case histories, explore what's going on overseas, and research all kinds of healing modalities -- from heroic surgeries to crystal healing. And, they can do so in the privacy of their homes without fear of censure, weighing the validity of different sources of information and decide the importance of each.

This capability is dramatically changing (and for the good I might add) the way in which patients view themselves and their healing journey in relation to their physicians. ''The amount of knowledge available to a computer-literate patient has no precedent anywhere in the history of religion, education, or medicine'' says Tom Ferguson, research fellow at Harvard Medical School's Center For Clinical Computing.

Bonnie O'Connor, another researcher and professor at The Pennsylvania Medical College states ''It's very clear that the use of computerized information is increasing, and patient confidence along with it.'' O'Connor has done extensive research into the use of complementary/alternative therapies and sees a shift in patient attitudes from one of dependency to self-determined. She says ''In a sense it has reversed the old role of the physician saying, I don't know anything about these herbs and I don't think you should take them -- to the patient saying don't worry, you don't have to know about them, I'm perfectly well-informed about them so I'll handle that part.''

Innovative, caring physicians will welcome the well-informed patient with their questions. Good medical care should be a partnership between patient and physician. No one person (patient or physician) can or does have all the answers. This why we seek doctors' care. Yet the patient's inherent wisdom literally held in the body, and one's own ability to read and self educate should not be dismissed.

One very enlightened physician commenting on his own feelings about the information explosion on the Internet stated ''I've been out there in the trenches for 20 years and I know how my colleagues think. We have dug in our heels, unwilling to change at a time when the train has already pulled out. We can get on it or not, but this is grass roots driven and the culture's going to leave us behind if we don't.''

Physicians, for the most part, are just like us, caring folks, who set out to help others. It's up to us to let them know that we want to be informed. You can help shape the quality of your life even in times when things have gone seriously wrong and it seems as though we have little or no control. Don't be afraid to ask questions. I think you might be surprised how relieved your doctor might be to find out you're willing to take some of the responsibility for your health and well being. If you find your doctor is unwilling to answer your questions and is not your partner in your health care, remember, he's a professional. You hired the doctor; you can fire the doctor!

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online September 12, 2000

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