Home > doctor patient communications, participatory medicine > What a Difference a Preposition Can Make!

What a Difference a Preposition Can Make!


As if talk of healthcare reform wasn’t enough, there are other quakes taking place in healthcare today that may create a seismic shift in how patients and providers relate to each other.

Called “participatory medicine,” it puts patient and provider on a level playing field when it comes to decision-making about treatment options or how the patient will manage her care.  The patient brings her 50 percent to the relationship based on her knowledge of her body and her medical and behavioral history.  The provider brings her 50 percent in the form of education and experience.  Both take an even share of responsibility for outcomes. Together they work toward management or healing.

As a patient, perhaps even a “professional patient” (is there such a thing?) I frequently ask providers what they think of this approach.  The responses are bell-curvy, leaning toward “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  Most can’t help it — that paternalistic, benevolent, “But I still know best” just oozes…

…Followed by some kind of further explanation, intended to show me just how inclusive they are of patients in their processes.  “We give these brochures TO patients” or “We send them TO specific websites” or “We make referrals FOR them.” While those activities may be useful to both patient and provider, they are more like customer service, and not truly participatory at all.

I suggest a new preposition is required.  Let’s try WITH.

If you are a provider, begin thinking about your patients who wish to participate in their healing or management processes as partners instead of targets.  No more of this TO or FOR stuff!  Try these instead:  “Mr. Patient and I reviewed the test results WITH each other,” or “Ms. Patient negotiated a treatment regimen WITH me.”

We patients don’t expect you’ll get it all right away.  But if you would adjust your vocabulary a wee bit, you’ll see that we want to work WITH you so we can find the best outcomes together. Because you can’t really give them TO us or accomplish them FOR us anyway.

And that’s participatory medicine.


Learn more about Trisha and her work.

Learn more about Trisha’s book
You Bet Your Life! The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes

(How to Fix Them to Get the Healthcare You Deserve)

Photo: © LattaPictures / iStockPhoto.com

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