Patient Perspective

Patient Empowerment

By Brenda Washington, LMSW, ACSW – Macro and Micro

My name is Brenda and I am a long-time volunteer with VeDA. My current position is on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. After a recent meeting I decided to do research on how patients might feel more empowered in the medical setting, particularly in the doctor’s office.

When I worked as a medical social worker and psychotherapist I saw a lot and advocated many, many times on behalf of injustices. Even with my support, I found that patients and clients who had family and social support had better outcomes.

While I was doing research for this article, I experienced anxiety. Thoughts that came up for me included, “We never know if we’re ever getting the BEST treatment,” and “With routine follow-up appointments there’s a concern that something may be missed.” With chronic issues I can’t stress enough the importance of having support as you tackle the uncertainty of the medical system. Below you will find some tips that may help if you’re looking for a new physician or have concerns about the care you are currently receiving.

Hang in there and don’t give up!

Find the Best Healthcare Professional For You

  • Gather your and your family’s health history.
  • Find out as much as you can about your condition (e.g. on VeDA’s website).
  • Make a list of what’s important to you in a doctor.
  • Check online to make sure your doctor is licensed and has no disciplinary actions against them.
  • Gather recommendations from those whose opinions you trust (e.g. other healthcare professionals, members of a support group).
  • Set up meetings with healthcare professionals on your list to ask questions and collect information to get a feel for their philosophy, style and practice.
  • Find a healthcare professional you feel like you can build a strong rapport with.
  • Does our healthcare professional have an organized office?
  • Does your healthcare professional see you in a timely fashion and for as long as it takes?
  • Does your healthcare professional direct you to an appropriate specialist, if needed?
  • Does your healthcare professional coordinate with everyone on your care team?
  • Is your healthcare professional committed to your wellness objectives?

Get the Most Out of Your Office Visits

  • Write down your questions for your healthcare professional before your visits.
  • Ask your healthcare professional to further explain what you don’t understand.
  • Ask your healthcare professional to write down what you think you may not recall.
  • Speak up if you have an issue.
  • Bring a support person with you to your office visit to take notes.

Signs It’s Time to Find a New Healthcare Professional

  • You experience a preventable error (e.g. the wrong drug is prescribed).
  • Your healthcare professional fails to report abnormal test results to you.
  • You cannot get timely access to care.
  • Their communication style is disrespectful and/or dismissive.

Other Tips:

  • Have an organized and disciplined person to be your logistical and emotional support.
  • Develop a support team. This may be one person or multiple people (e.g. emotional, logistical, clinical, and intellectual qualities are very helpful).
  • When things don’t seem right, trust your instincts.
  • Know that you can hire and fire your healthcare professional.


  1. Goldberg, S. R.N. (2019). HOW TO BE A PATIENT: The Essential Guide to Navigating The World Of Modern Medicine. Harperbacks.

  2. Michelson, L. D. (2015). THE PATIENT’S PLAYBOOK: How to save your life and the lives of those you love. Knopf.