New publication: Patient education as empowerment and self-rebiasing

Fabrice Jotterand , Antonio Amodio, Bernice S. Elger


The fiduciary nature of the patient-physician relationship requires clinicians to act in the best interest of their patients. Patients are vulnerable due to their health status and lack of medical knowledge, which makes them dependent on the clinicians’ expertise. Competent patients, however, may reject the recommendations of their physician, either refusing beneficial medical interventions or procedures based on their personal views that do not match the perceived medical indication. In some instances, the patients’ refusal may jeopardize their health or life but also compromise the clinician’s moral responsibility to promote the patient’s best interests. In other words, health professionals have to deal with patients whose behavior and healthcare decisions seem counterproductive for their health, or even deteriorate it, because of lack of knowledge, bad habits or bias without being the patients’ free voluntary choice. The moral dilemma centers on issues surrounding the limits of the patient’s autonomy (rights) and the clinician’s role to promote the well-being of the patient (duties). In this paper we argue that (1) the use of manipulative strategies, albeit considered beneficent, defeats the purpose of patient education and therefore should be rejected; and (2) the appropriate strategy is to empower patients through patient education which enhances their autonomy and encourages them to become full healthcare partners as opposed to objects of clinical intervention or entities whose values or attitudes need to be shaped and changed through education. First, we provide a working definition of the concept of patient education and a brief historical overview of its origin. Second, we examine the nature of the patient-physician relationship in order to delineate its boundaries, essential for understanding the role of education in the clinical context. Third, we argue that patient education should promote self-rebiasing, enhance autonomy, and empower patients to determine their therapeutic goals. Finally, we develop a moral framework for patient education.

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy. pp 1-9
First online: 14 May 2016

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