The New York Times recently published a special series to help individuals advocate for their own health. The series included information on reliable health information websites, patients’ use of the Internet for self-education about their symptoms and diagnoses, how to understand a medical research report, what FDA approval really means, and several other topics.
Importantly, the Times pieces represented a largely positive take on patients becoming informed and active in their own healthcare, recommending that people seek second opinions when needed and become informed about what constitutes reliable medical evidence by gaining a basic knowledge of good study design. One physician interviewed, with regards to the tendency to go online for additional information, said:
“We have to acknowledge that patients do this research. It’s important that instead of fighting against it, that we join them and become their coaches in the process.”
The pieces make a stark contrast to the historical (and sometimes current) experiences of many women, who may have experienced hostility and condescension from physicians who took a more paternalistic approach. Taken as a whole, the Times pieces encourage individuals to learn and understand, rather than leaving everything to the doctors.
In touching on the estrogen problem as well as the reliability of research, the pieces also remind us that women have too often been on the receiving end of medical practices and traditions that have not been well-supported by the evidence. From individual practices such as previously routine episiotomies and hormone replacement to broader policies such as those that discourage hospitals from allowing vaginal births after a cesarean, individual women may receive care in environments that don’t support the reliance on evidence, questioning and self-education the Times pieces recommend.
For further details, visit any of the following articles from the Times (or this section page):
- You’re Sick. Now What? Knowledge Is Power.
- Searching for Clarity: A Primer on Medical Studies
- What’s Behind an F.D.A. Stamp?
- You Can Find Dr. Right, With Some Effort
- Applying Science to Alternative Medicine
Of course, OBOS has been recommending that women become informed about and advocate for better healthcare for quite a long time – see our content on Navigating the Health Care System for examples, as well as any of the full OBOS books.