With over 500,000 visits to its website per month, the Health Education Library for People (HELP) is a leading source of information on health in India. HELP founder Aniruddha Malpani shares his perspective on the need for patient advocacy and access to accurate health information.
Who advocates for patients?
By Dr. Aniruddha Malpani
I believe that patients and their friends and family are the largest untapped healthcare resource. People need to be empowered through adequate information and timely decision making support. This is a challenge and an opportunity for all the players in the healthcare system.
While technology has helped to ensure patients are well-informed, this is not enough, especially in India, where so many people are poor, illiterate and vulnerable. They need a helping hand, in the form of a guardian angel called a patient advocate.
An advocate is just someone who stands up for you and helps you in claiming your rights. We need patient advocates you are ill, you need someone who will talk for you and talk to you - an independent trusted, wise advisor, who is empathetic and rational enough to help you to take the right decisions. Patient advocates function as a communication bridge between doctors and patients and help patients to access quality medical care.
Empowering patients with health information
As a doctor, I understand the need for their patients to get adequate medical information, but we are not always in a position to spend the time required to provide them with the information. What’s more, medical jargon and multiple tests recommended by we doctors can leave patients perplexed.
Keeping this need in mind, we founded HELP - Health Education Library for People. Our physical library in Mumbai, India, is free to the public, and home to a wide range of books on medical information required by patients. Besides the library, HELP, through its website, provides a platform for patients to send queries on health related topics and also provides up to date information on a variety of health topics by experts in the field.
Family doctors as advocates
In the past, each family had a family doctor to serve as a patient advocate. The family doctor was very aware of the medical history of each member of the family and would also be the primary consultant before any important medical decision is made in the family. We now see a comeback of these traditional patient advocates! With greater importance being given to primary and preventive care, the revival of the concept of family medicine has begun.
Organisations such as Nationwide, Mera Doctor and Ross clinics (CHMI profiled programs) are attempting to bring back the essence of family medicine and change the way families receive primary care. The doctor-patient relationship is very important here and the family doctor would also serve as a patient advocate.
Benefits of having a patient advocate
Patient advocates provide a variety of benefits:
- Many have medical training and some are doctors. Knowing that another medical professional is watching over a patient’s care often makes a doctor more careful.
- Patient advocates can interpret complex medical information for patients.
- Patient advocates can transmit important information back to the physician in a way that the doctor can understand.
- They can brainstorm with physicians in a way that the patient cannot, so that they can forge a partnership which helps the patient to get the best possible medical care.
These two groups—professional patient advocates and family doctors—could collaborate to form a strong body that is patient centric, and work together to continually update themselves on patient needs and provide services accordingly.
Our book, Patient Advocacy – Giving Voice to Patients, is available free online. This book explains what patient advocacy is, what patient advocates do and how they do it. Anyone who is ill or wants to help a person who is ill will find this book a useful resource. We all need a helping hand when we are sick!
For more information, see Use Patient Power to Tackle Medical Corruption in India, and visit www.healthlibrary.com.