Nothing is more frustrating as a medical practitioner to witness your patients, those whose health you have a vested interest in, continuously waltz through life without paying much attention to what is being said to them.  Case in point, in my practice as Social Media Medicine expert, so many people gripe about how they can’t move as fast as they could back in the day, their backs hurt, climbing up stairs is literally a pain and so on and so forth.  But when you take the time to ask them what they ate for breakfast and how they spent their day – the answer is something like “fried bacon and eggs followed by a day watching TV”.

More and more people in the medical field are taking notice of this backburner attitude that patients have about their own health and needless to say it leaves us helpless.  Thirty, forty years ago we were conditioned to go to the doctor when something wasn’t right, we were told the problem and then we went home to follow the advice that was administered.   Long before that it was “take two and call me in the morning” with the understanding that the patient didn’t even have to ask any questions, merely they would follow doctor’s orders blindly.

Never has it been understood that the doctor’s advice wouldn’t be taken seriously.  Here we are today with the influx of information available in myriad forms (you name it – on the web, on television, through podcasts, medical journals, mainstream publications and more) leaving people the opportunity to question, not even follow, or worse, not even care about the doctor’s orders.

The kicker is that unless and until people take control of their own health, there is not a single thing any medical practitioner can really do other than to continually “rescue” them from the latest ailment suffered because of their own negligence.

Take someone who is overweight, like the typical patient I mentioned earlier in this article.  What on earth will it take to wake up this person?  Will a heart attack be enough to convince them that what the doctor ordered is truly best for them?  Will one step further than that be enough? Unfortunately, there is little those of us in the medical field can really do to help patients that don’t want to help themselves, other than to counsel, convince and hopefully carry them through their ailments.

The problem is definitely widespread, enough so that a non-profit organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota teamed up with researchers of the University of Oregon to administer a survey that was carefully designed by the U of O team.  Given to patients treated at over forty primary care clinics, the survey was designed to measure the level of patient engagement in their own health.  The goal of this project was to determine whether there is an active correlation between varying levels of patient involvement of their own health.

Of the more than 25,000 patients surveyed, those that reported being actively involved in their health, with a strong self-awareness while practicing appropriate lifestyle changes to cater to their health conditions demonstrated fewer incidents of obesity, tobacco use or hospitalization.  Conversely, those patients that reported less involvement and engagement in their health were more apt to being overweight, using tobacco and experiencing more frequent incidents of hospitalization.  This proved true across the board, regardless of socioeconomic status and even though those of more substantial means tended to have less health concerns, in all cases people more involved with their health fared better.

What does this mean for me, as your go-to person for all things health and wellness? It means that I need to dig even deeper to find ways to engage my patients.  I need to continue looking for things that make health and healthy living a priority for everyone that comes in my circle of reach.  So whether that means starting a stream of information-loaded, education shows or getting serious with my patients risking getting serious if they don’t live up to their responsibility to themselves – I will continue to do it.

Don’t be surprised if the next time you log onto my Facebook page, post a comment complaining about how your back hurts and then reach for the potato chips – if I come back at your with a stern scolding to “Get up, fess up and take control of your health!”