Patient EmPOWERment – what do we mean?

I’ve written before about my PhD student Sara Riggare who is focusing on how health informatics and new technology can help patients to take control over their health and collaboration with healthcare. In this podcast, she discusses the concept “patient empowerment” in Swedish. There’s no good direct translation of the term patient empowerment to Swedish – and in the podcast the topic was “patientmakt” = patient power. Sara however proposes to use the term “patientkraft” instead, which also translates to patient power. I believe that these to terms for power in Swedish clearly shows the double nature the term empowerment has.

Makt – is often related to having power over things, e.g. a leader that has risen to power, or to be power hungry.

Kraft – on the other hand is more positive (in this context), relating more to energy and strength, having the power to handle difficulties.

Both terms can be relevant when discussing the concept of patient empowerment. There is definitely a question of makt in place in the relationships between healthcare professionals and patients. Going from a traditional paternalistic relationship where the healthcare professionals (doctors in particular) have all the power and  knowledge and makes decisions for patients, to one where patients are given the power over decisions and should be informed in order to do so is easy to accept in theory, but definitely causes conflict in reality. Shifting the power balance is difficult without controversy.

Speaking of “patientkraft” – the power or energy patients have to take responsibility and manage their own disease and healthcare – has a much more positive ring to it. It also focuses more on a collaborative relationship between patient and healthcare professionals, rather than a conflicting one where power is taken from one part and given to the other. With the term “patientkraft” we move closer to the often repeated quote: “Patients are the most underutilized resource in health care”.

The way I see it, both aspects of patient empowerment, both MAKT and KRAFT, are essential to understand the potentially disruptive nature of patient empowerment.

[post 10 in the #blogg100 challenge]

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