The special importance of health care stems in part from its ability to relieve worry and to enable patients to adjust to their situation by supplying reliable information about their health. Most people do not understand the true nature of a health problem when it first develops. Health professionals can then perform the worthwhile function of informing people about their conditions and about the expected prognoses with or without various treatments. Though information sometimes creates concern, often it reassures patients either by ruling out a feared disease or by revealing the self- limiting nature of a condition and, thus, the lack of need for further treatment. Although health care in many situations may thus not be necessary for good physical health, a great deal of relief from unnecessary concern and even avoidance of pointless or potentially harmful steps is achieved by health care in the form of expert information provided to worried patients. Even when a prognosis is unfavorable and health professionals have little treatment to offer, accurate information can help patients plan how to cope with their situation. To help improve patient care, safety, satisfaction, and outcomes, it is important to engage patients and families in their healthcare. Patients who are well informed of their medical condition are more likely to comply with their provider’s recommended regimen. They are also better able to communicate important health information to their providers, which can assist providers with their diagnosis and care plans.
Informed and educated patients and their families can take an active role in healthcare decision making; for example, when faced with multiple treatment options (e.g., choice of breast or prostate cancer treatments), educational materials and tools can help them share in treatment decisions. They are also more likely to effectively manage their own care, as healthy behaviors and chronic care are ongoing, everyday activities. Patients’ participation in chronic care self-management programs can have a substantial impact on their health (e.g., self-management programs for diabetics that help patients effectively manage their diabetes).
Along with improved health outcomes, active involvement of patients and families can lower underuse or overuse of medical services and reduce health care costs. For example, when patients seek care from multiple providers, patients who have copies of or access to their medical records (e.g., immunization records) can show these records to the provider and avoid unnecessary or duplicative laboratory tests or procedures.