The Ultimate Guide to Being a Smart Patient

That’s not the title of the book I’m about to review, but it sure as heck could be…

The whole point of all this talk about “empowered patients” and “Health 2.0” is that people are getting savvier about their own health and the care they need. Part of this is a natural byproduct of the “Information Age,” where we have the wonders of the internet at our fingertips. But the other part is that our health system in America has imploded (or quickly eroded) to the point where we have to be grab the reigns of our own diagnoses and treatments.

Yet most of us are stuck in the old-school mindset of relying on a “benevolent doctor” and caring health system to take care of us when we get sick. And when we get diagnosed with something scary, there’s nothing more human than to freeze up and relinquish all control to “the experts.” Boy, can this have dire consequences!

Now, finally, there’s a really great straight-talkin’ guidebook that explains all this, and tells you in no uncertain terms how to advocate for yourself.  The book is called “You Bet Your Life: The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes” by famous e-patient Trisha Torrey.

First, you should know a little about Trisha. As she explains in the book’s introduction, she was told in summer of 2004 that she had a rare and deadly lymphatic cancer, and needed chemotherapy.  Luckily, she was curious enough about her own symptoms to get some second opinions.  To make a long story short, it turns out Trisha had no cancer at all! Seriously, none. “Ironically… had I undergone chemo or radiation and survived it, the very doctors and pathologists who misdiagnosed me … would have been declared heroes for curing me of an incurable cancer,” she writes.

Trisha has gone on to become a columnist, radio host, and frequent speaker, known as “Every Patient’s Advocate.”

“You Bet Your Life
” is her first book, and IMHO, it is a seminal one. Her main messages are some inconvenient, but fundamental truths:

1) doctors are just humans like us – they too make mistakes.

2) capitalism and benevolent healthcare don’t mix – our country is founded on business principles of maximizing profit. This has spilled over into healthcare, which is now clearly more about making money than about making people healthy.

3) you cannot blame all your woes on the system – if you don’t get the care you need, it’s your own fault as well.

Trisha aims to teach us patients how get that care, by informing us on relevant topics ranging from the difference between a nurse practitioner and a physician’s assistant to how doctors prep for operations. Sound boring? I assure you that Trisha has made this stuff as palatable as possible, and you can learn a ton.  Beginning with how the needs and wishes of the three main stakeholders — doctors, insurance companies, and patients — clash.

Chapters include:

  • Mistake 1: Thinking the Healthcare System is Focused on Helping Patients
  • Mistake 2: Thinking Doctors Put Patients’ Needs First
  • Mistake 3: Not Confirming Your Diagnosis
  • Mistake 4: Thinking You’ve Been Told About All Your Treatment Options
  • Mistake 5: Thinking You’re Safe In the Hands of the Healthcare System
  • Mistake 6: Not Understanding the Influence of Your Medical Records on Your Health and Your Wallet
  • Mistake 7: Spending Time in the Hospital Unless It’s Absolutely Necessary
  • Mistake 8: Using the Internet to Find Health Information Without a Compass
  • Mistake 9: Thinking Medical Research Is Searching for Cures
  • Mistake 10: Letting the Media Influence Your Decisions Without Reading Between the Lines

Each mistake is followed by a “fix” chapter, with detailed descriptions of tactics to help you overcome, and use your growing understanding of the healthcare system to get better results.

For a little taste, you can review the first chapters of the book online here.

I can’t recommend this book enough for caregivers in particular. If your loved one is dealing with a serious health condition, they need this information, but may not be in any shape or state of mind to engage themselves. Pick up a copy of this essential guide and start being a smart patient (advocate)!

Congratulations to Trisha — and Thank You!

{Langdon Street Press, under $12 on}


6 Responses

  1. Saramy
    Saramy June 9, 2010 at 9:28 am | | Reply

    Oh gosh, in my case – she’s preaching to the choir. For those who have never dealt with serious illness this should be invaluable, but they are the ones who usually don’t think about dealing with the medical system until they’re in the thick of it. Thanks for turning us on to this book.

  2. Steve Parker, M.D.
    Steve Parker, M.D. June 9, 2010 at 12:31 pm | | Reply

    I’m personally familiar with physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and hospital systems that have saved lives and greatly improved quality of life for many people. Drugs developed by Big Pharma save lives, too.

    Neverthe less, rather than get deeply involved in the U.S. healthcare system as a patient, it’s better if you can avoid illness in the first place.

    Live healthy.


  3. Steve Parker, M.D.
    Steve Parker, M.D. June 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm | | Reply

    Here’s an example from a cardiologist, if you don’t mind a link:


  4. riva
    riva June 9, 2010 at 2:07 pm | | Reply

    Interesting this post comes just as I asked the provocative questions on The Huffington Post, “Are Doctors Losing Their Relevance Due to Social Media Sites?,

    As most things, the patient-physician relationship needs to transition with : physicians going back to treating people as well as illness, and also realizing that with social media in our everyday lives, lots of us are more educated about our conditions than ever.

  5. Sheryl Kurland
    Sheryl Kurland June 10, 2010 at 5:02 am | | Reply

    I keep a copy of Trish Torrey’s book in my Patient Advocate library. It’s an excellent resource for patients. If all the information in her book is just too much for you to digest or if you’d like a Professional Patient Advocate to do all the things she describes for you, another option….There is an independent non-profit organization called National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants whose members are Professional Patient Advocates. To find a Professional Patient Advocate in your area, check the organization’s directory:
    Sheryl Kurland/Patient Advocates Of Orlando

  6. Scott K. Johnson
    Scott K. Johnson June 28, 2010 at 12:31 am | | Reply

    Wow – sounds like a great resource, and something many of us should read!

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