The Patient, the Most Important Part of the Medical Team

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA

(A follow-up post to “When Doctors and Nurses Work Together.”)

Do you feel that patients are the most important part of the medical (health care team)?

In a recent post on Healthin30, “When Doctors and Nurses Work Together” I wrote about the team-based approach for caring and treating patients, and it addressed the relationship between nurses, doctors, patients and the importance of a multidisciplinary, team-based approach to patient care.

The health care team is comprised of a diverse group of specialized professionals, and the most important part of the medical team is the patient.

Subsequent to publishing this post, I received an email from an author and patient advocate stating that patients are not the most important member of the medical team.

I value and respect this comment; however I politely and passionately disagree.  As a registered nurse and consumer health advocate, I emphatically say that patients are the most important part of the medical team.

As health care professionals engage their patients with empathy, we can make them feel valued and respected, and by listening and communicating effectively with our patients we can develop a treatment plan specifically around their needs.  Patients are the center and the most valuable part of the team.  We need to involve them in their care and understand that they are the integral part of the health care team.  We need to encourage them to be a proponent of their own health care.  We need to let them know that it is okay to ask questions and to take charge of their health.  Patients may have some self-doubt about questioning health professionals.  They may feel uneasy and perhaps they may have difficulty expressing themselves, but we can offer reassurance and continue to encourage them to be proactive.

My colleagues speak out

I asked a few of my colleagues to weigh in on this topic.  They are:

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN senior medical correspondent and author of THE EMPOWERED PATIENT

“Patients know their bodies and their illnesses, and know when something’s gone wrong. Empowered patients can communicate changes and observations that can make a real difference in their medical care. To have their voices heard patients have to, first of all, speak up! This might sound obvious, but many times patients are intimidated, or sometimes bewildered, by the medical world around them. Also, it can be hard to speak up if the doctor or nurse if perceived to be rushed and ready to move on to the next patient. In “The Empowered Patient,” I urge patients to realize there are times they absolutely have to advocate for themselves or their loved ones. Their lives, or the life of someone they love, may depend on it.”

Kevin Pho, MD, primary care physician and founder of KevinMD

“It’s important for doctors and other medical providers to listen to the most important member of the healthcare team, the patient.  After all, there is no bigger stakeholder.  Involving the patient in the decision making process is essential, to both better the patient outcome and improve patient experience.”

Donna Cryer, JD, CEO of CryerHealth and patient advocate, DC Patient

“Patients are the sine qua non of health care. Not without which there is no purpose of spending all this time, money, and effort.  Patients are the most affected by the success or failure of the medical team.  Patients hold the ultimate responsibility of selecting the right team members, determining the primary objective based on their lifestyle and values, adhering to the treatment or recovery plan, and persisting, enduring until the team has reached the end of their work.”

Carl R. Sullivan, MD, director of addictions programs at the West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, WV

Patient care is at the heart of everything we do, says Dr. Sullivan.  He refers to this quote from Norman Cousins-1989 that speaks volumes.

“People go to doctors out of fear and hope – fear that something may be wrong but hope that it can be set right. If these emotional needs don’t figure in the physician’s approach, he may be treating half the patient. The question is not now – any more than it has ever been – whether physicians should attach less importance to their scientific training than to their relationships with patients, but rather whether enough importance is being attached to everything involved in effective patient care.”-Norman Cousins

Putting patients needs first and allowing them to be the focal point and at the center of the team will foster a better patient relationship and better outcomes.  By being empathetic, listening and communicating and understanding that patients are the most important part of the team; health care professionals can create a treatment plan that correlates with patients needs.  Every patient is the most important member of the health care team.

Your turn

We would love to hear your insightful thoughts.  Do you feel that you are the most important part of the medical (health care team)?  What are your experiences?  Do you consider yourself an empowered patient?  Do you take charge of your health?  Have there been times when you were afraid to speak up?  Are you involved in the decision making process with your health care professionals?

Please share your experiences so we can all learn to be better at what we do.

As always, thank you for your time.

Similar Posts

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When Doctors and Nurses Work Together

Empowered Patient: Bring a Family Member or Friend with you to Your Doctor’s Appointment

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Doctor-Patient Relationship: How Patients Can Help Enhance Communication

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  1. 1

    Great discussion. I have mixed feelings on this. While it’s pretty obvious that without patients there would be no doctors, it’s also true that without doctors there would be no patients. While I’m an active participant in my care and I’m ultimately responsible for deciding on the course of treatment, I don’t like calling myself “empowered” because it’s become such a buzzword and some of the discussion is verging on strident. It’s like the pendulum has swung from the “Because I said so” model of medical care to the “Give me what I demand” model, and both are off-base. I think “empathy” on both sides is a much more important “e” word than “empowered.” I wonder why we even need to ask who the most important member of the team is; if we’re truly part of a team, then it isn’t a contest.

    Jackie Fox, Author, “From Zero to Mastectomy: What I Learned And You Need to Know About Stage 0 Breast Cancer”

  2. 2

    I agree with Kevin Pho, MD. There is no greater stakeholder than the patient. We need to communicate to the physician; we need to ask questions; and we need to be responsible in following through and keeping ourselves healthy. Physicians and clinicians deliver a very valuable service and offer their expertise in whatever needs to be addressed in our health. Engaged patients are essential in the whole process. It should not be something which is “passed off” and received in a passive mode. Thanks for engaging the conversation.

  3. 3

    Thank you, Barbara, so much for making such a strong statement on behalf of patients. It so often feels that every aspect of the healthcare system is designed for the benefit and convenience of everyone except the patient, every perspective is requested and considered except for the patient. When recent reports tell us that the equivalent of 15,000 die everyday from medical errors and adverse events in the hospital, I really don’t understand how anyone can say that a patient does not have to be empowered and engaged in their care and really force the system to do better by us.

  4. 4

    Hi Jackie, Jon and DCPatient,

    Thank you so much for your sharing your insight. I greatly appreciate it. It is essential that patients are considered the most important part of the medical team.

    Thank you again for your comments and I look forward to bringing you more on this topic.


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