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When Your Own Health is the Best Medicine for Patients

Monday, April 01, 2019
Geri Lynn Baumblatt & Shiv Gaglani

Clinicians and professional caregivers aren’t used to being on the receiving end of care -- and typically don’t like the vulnerability that comes with being a patient. Instead they’re often taught to be tough. They work long hours, eat on the go, and balance life and death decisions - in order to deliver care to others. In other words, the culture of medicine is to not care for yourself in as you work to care for others. It’s a zero-sum game. Every minute spent getting rest, eating well, enjoying a hobby, or exercising is a minute that’s not spent doing patient care.
What if it’s not a zero-sum game?
There's ample evidence that how doctors look, feel and behave may affect patient care. Studies show that many doctors and nurses fail to promote healthy behaviors in their patients, particularly if they themselves aren’t eating well, getting exercise and are stressed. And who isn’t stressed?
The converse is also true:
Clinicians who are healthier are more likely to talk with their patients about lifestyle choices and patients in turn may feel more comfortable receiving and following their advice.
So much of health care spending and disease burden is tied to behaviors: smoking, diet, activity, and stress. And if the ones who provide care can't make changes in their own lives, can we expect patients to make those changes?
A Johns Hopkins study found that normal weight doctors are more likely to counsel their patients about obesity and weight loss than physicians who are overweight. Today, roughly 6 in 10 doctors and nurses are overweight or obese, a level approaching that in the general population. That’s not great news, but it’s also an opportunity.
Consider the dramatic decline in smoking rates over the past 50 years. Clinician behavior helped lead the way. In the 1950s about half of physicians smoked. By the 1980s the rate was below 20%. Today its down around 3%. In the culture of healthcare, being a smoker became unacceptable, and the clinicians who quit smoking themselves knew what it took to quit and could help patients get over the hump.
So even though doctors may make lousy patients, embracing that experience might be exactly what they have to do to help their patients get over their own hurdles, vulnerabilities, and fears.
In the words of Nobel Peace Prize-winning physician Albert Schweitzer: "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing."

Make a promise to yourself and those you care for.
If this resonates with you, read more about The Patient Promise. Commit to your own health and creating the best version of yourself, so you can help others do the same.  


Here is a youtube video link that nicely complements this article:

Shiv Gaglani began his MD degree at Johns Hopkins and paused to earn his MBA from Harvard in 2016. He co-developed the Patient Promise, a movement to improve the clinician-patient relationship through partnership in pursuing healthy lifestyle behaviors, and curated the Smartphone Physical, which debuted at TEDMED. He is also the co-founder and CEO of, a health education platform that reaches over a million current & future clinicians, as well as their patients. @ShivGaglani @OsmosisMed

Geri Lynn Baumblatt MA, For the last 20 years, Geri has worked to help people understand health conditions and procedures, orient them to their diagnoses, make more informed decisions about their care, and partner with their care teams.  She oversaw the creation of the Emmi program library, and she regularly speaks and serves on patient engagement, patient experience, health literacy, shared decision making, health design, family caregiving, and heath communication panels for organizations like AHRQ, the Brookings Institute, Stanford Medicine X, and the Center for Plain Language. She serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Patient Experience, is on the board of the Society for Participatory Medicine, and published a chapter in Transformative Healthcare Practice through Patient Engagement (IGI Global). She currently consults on patient engagement, family caregiving, and health communication. Follow her on Twitter @GeriLynn

Tags: personal healthcare, expectations, experience, patient
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