Precision medicine, shared decision-making and patient-centered care are current buzzwords in medicine, but unlike some other trends that are shallow or flashy, I am pleased these ideas have come into our collective consciousness. When my grandmother was sick, I felt such a sense of confusion and loss. The doctors were intimidating and aloof and spoke at my grandmother and father rather than with them. This left us feeling completely at their mercy. Heart disease was treated like an enigma that couldn’t possibly be understood or self-managed. To be fair, this was partly because even the doctors didn’t really understand heart disease until more recently. Until the 1960s there was no real treatment for heart attack other than bed rest even in the United States, so you can imagine how things were in India.
Understanding the parts of your heart, their functions, how they work together, and what happens when they are not functioning properly is essential if you want to maintain a healthy heart. It is not only possible but important that you participate in the health of your heart. Just as you would participate with your painter in picking the colors to paint your house or with a shopkeeper in picking your clothing, you can and should have opinions about your healthcare and should participate in the decisions, both big and small, that affect your physical wellbeing. So why then, when we are in the cardiologist’s office, do we sit passively or throw up our hands in defeat?
“If they know and are better informed, then they can participate and share in the decision-making.”
The answer is simply because most people do not understand the processes happening in our hearts. I have studied the heart for much of my life. During that time, I have watched so many patients succumb to confusion and disengage from their own care. I have also often seen that the people with heart disease who remain healthiest are those who have taken the time to learn about their condition, and are the most responsible and diligent about following their health plan.