Managing a health condition, and our wellbeing, takes confidence, knowledge and skills, and these takes time to develop.
The idea of empowerment might seem strange, but we all
self-manage every day, whether we call it that or not. We take decisions about what we eat, how much we exercise and rest, and whether to take our medication.
We have choices in how we manage our life with a health condition. However, sometimes we don’t have the right support or right information available, or we do not know what different treatment options we may have; treatments that can make significant changes to our lives.
In addition, we may be feeling angry and let down that there is no easy solution or cure.
When we are faced with a diagnosis we can make different choices. The choices we make are based on what is important to us- the patient.
• Carry on as before we had the condition.
Make no changes, ignore it and the advice of professionals.
In this case our condition gets worse and leads us to become more disabled by it.
We may worry constantly about the condition, and it quickly feels as if it controls and dominate every aspect of our life. In this case we are quite likely to become frustrated, anxious, depressed and even defined by our condition.
• Accept the changes that are brought about by the health condition.
Make adaptations that we consider useful, in the way we live and enable family, friends, health professionals and colleagues to support us.
In this way we remain in control- the condition is simply a part of us rather than us being a part of the condition. This sense of being in control is what empowerment is about.
What support should we expect from the health care system?
• Information that is understandable, accessible and relevant to us and our situation.
• Support to develop the confidence, knowledge and skills to manage our own health through activities such as:
- Self-management education
- Health coaching
- Peer support
- Personalised care and support planning
- Community activities that help you stay well
Empowerment - a definition
The European Patients Forum, as part of their campaign on Patient Empowerment, identified 5 main areas to support empowerment:
Patients can make informed decisions about their health if they are able to access all the relevant information, in an easily understandable format.
Patients self-manage their condition every day so they have a unique expertise on healthcare which needs to be supported.
Patients need support to become equal partners with health professionals in the management of their condition.
Individual patients work with patient organisations to represent them, and channel their experience and collective voice.
Patients need to be involved in designing more effective healthcare for all, and in research to deliver new and better treatments and services.