Patient empowerment

Patient empowerment is a process designed to facilitate the active participation of patients in their health care. Active patient participation depends on the patient’s ability to obtain, read, understand and use health care information to make appropriate decisions and to follow instructions for treatment. However, a number of barriers exist to patient understanding of and participation in their health care. While many patients may want to discuss options and share their opinions with their health care providers, others may be reluctant to take such an active role. Social, economic and cultural factors can affect patients’ readiness to participate in decision-making and in other aspects of care.

Patients with low language proficiency of the host country or limited health literacy are more vulnerable to misunderstanding, improper use of medications, medical errors or adverse events. Promotion of effective communication and patient participation in the decision-making process is vital, particularly in areas such as informed consent or surgical interventions. The same is true for other aspects of care, notably the management of chronic illnesses (e.g., diabetes). Therefore, patients and their relatives need appropriate information to understand illnesses and to participate in treatment decisions and planning. Being more and better informed contributes to patients’ safety, promotes informed and reasoned choices and enables patients to successfully cooperate with hospital staff.

Concrete actions to promote patient empowerment include working with trained medical interpreters, providing written information in the patient’s language, simplifying health information, using plain language and teach-back techniques, and developing treatment and prevention strategies adapted to the needs of specific patient populations.