a his & hers weblog of worlds apart

Risks, Benefits and Patient Empowerment

I read an interesting article by Dr. Roni Zeiger about the importance of asking your doctor to outline all of the risks and benefits of any treatment or procedure prior to consenting to it.

In his own words

Your job as an informed consumer of healthcare is to make sure that the
benefits outweigh the risks. The stakes are too high for you to assume
that your doctor knows this…Demand the facts and make informed decisions. Your life depends on it.

I posted a comment on the article directly, but thought I would elaborate a little bit here. I think this argument particularly interesting in the context of a genetic counselling session. Part of my job is to outline the benefits (such as providing valuable information for family members) and the risks (such as the potential for future insurance discrimination) of pursuing a genetic test. After reviewing the risks and benefits,  we will ask the patient if he/she would like to proceed. I have always personally felt this to be a strength of my profession. Based on Dr. Zeiger’s argument above, we are ahead of the game.

However, I occasionally get the sense that people are confused by this process because it goes against the general flow of most other medical appointments. Also, there are some people who would prefer not to hear any of the risks, benefits and limitations of the test. Instead, they are only interested in hearing what we think they should do.

I don’t think there is any right or wrong way to be a patient. But if you align yourself with the patient empowerment camp, you’ll find like-minded healthcare providers in your genetics clinic. If you’d rather not hear the details, it could be a frustrating experience for you.

2 comments on “Risks, Benefits and Patient Empowerment

  1. Nicolina
    April 16, 2009

    It is so true that these two ‘camps’ of patients exist and I cannot help but think of how interesting this argument is from a sociological standpoint as well.

    While I completely believe it is someone’s right to consult a professional for opinions related to ones own health, I do think it is a good idea for people to rely solely on another’s opinion, no matter what that person’s background might be.

    To go even further with this idea, I think this impulse to just be told what to do in relation to ones own health creates a society that becomes detached from their bodies so that patients become passive bystanders in matters of their own well being. The more health practitioners allow patients to detach themselves from decisions directly effecting their health the less likely people will engage with their bodies and take an active role in getting healthy.

    So I don’t sound too declamatory, I want emphasis that I completely agree with you in the sense that there is no right or wrong way to be a patient but I think if more traditional health practitioners took a similar approach to how you (and genetic counselors) approach their positions [of power] and encourage a dialogue with their patients that people will slowly become more active participants in their own health and in the long run be healthier people.

  2. alliejanson
    April 17, 2009


    Great points. I can’t help but think that this detachment to health is also tied in to current societal “quick fix” mentality (e.g. fad dieting).

    “The more health practitioners allow patients to detach themselves from decisions directly effecting their health the less likely people will engage with their bodies and take an active role in getting healthy”
    — this begs the question, who’s responsibility is it to promote this discourse? The patient? The health care provider? The health care system?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on April 15, 2009 by in Her Nature Posts and tagged , , , , , .

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 39 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: