On The Front Line: Should we tap into this resource?

I was reminded this week of a mug I’d seen a while back. One side of the mug shows a doctor saying: ‘Please don’t confuse your Google search with my medical degree’.The other side has an older patient saying: ‘Please don’t confuse your one hour lecture with my lifetime of experience of living with this condition.’

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 12:00 am
Doctor's equipment

I’m a doctor and I do appreciate the experience we too build up over years of treating a large range of people and conditions. People are very different and the way an illness plays out for one is often very different to another. I’m not saying there is no role for experienced health care professionals. However, between all the people living with the long-term medical conditions there is huge wealth of experience. That experience is different to that of a health care expert, it is lived experience of real life, 24/7, coping with the symptoms and having to manage their illness in a huge range of situations. Between them all they’ve seen it all before.

At a time when we’ve been seeing the health system overwhelmed and a clear desire for volunteers to pitch in, it makes we wonder if we should tap into this valuable resource

The expert patient program has been around for a while, a course that trains patients how to support others. But it is still small scale. What if as communities we took it upon ourselves to capture all the range of experiences people have of coping with medical issues? What if healthcare became the responsibility of communities working together?

I understand there are privacy issues, and limits on who could and should offer support. But I have seen it working well. We could get deliberate about searching out these strengths and giving them airtime in the right way. Not only does it support people, but it feels good for the giver. Very often people living with long-term health conditions feel marginalised. This “many to many” approach would help people re-establish a role in their community.

Where I’ve seen this work well, experienced patients tend to amplify how to live life well with the condition, shifting the focus away from a illness-based approach towards a wellness one.