Well of course we are not all doctors. What a ludicrous statement. Just because I have changed a band-aid, taken a temperature, “diagnosed” a headache and appropriately treated with an acetaminophen, and even clipped an in-grown toe-nail does not make me a healthcare professional. I do not have the education, training, and experience that would entitle me to be called a doctor, nor would I be able to provide the insights and informed perspective of a doctor.
Yet, in meeting after meeting lately I hear the statement “We are all patients” made to justify people who have not lived with a chronic illness, not been hospitalized, not experienced the fear, confusion, frustration and urgency born from navigating and confronting a serious disease, shaping policy and health system change on behalf of patients. I believe that this is as ludicrous and dangerous as my attempting to channel the physician perspective without having lived the physician or healthcare professional experience.
I would like to see how far we would get if we tried to put together a panel on “The Physician Perspective on Health Care Reform” with only patients and patient advocates, shrug that we could not find a doctor to speak (They are too busy after all, and we wouldn’t want to put any more burdens on them), or that it was too hard to choose among just one specialty, but excuse our omission because the panelists chosen know doctors, have spoken with them, maybe even did a focus group with doctors so feel perfectly qualified to speak on their behalf. That clearly would not be tolerated. So why are we content to go through the charade of discussing or designing healthcare without including the people most affected by healthcare and with the most knowledge about and incentive to fix the gaps, needs, and impact of healthcare challenges and failures?
I understand the well-meaning attempt to broaden the group of people focused on healthcare issues motivating many who wave the “we are all patients” flag, but there is a difference between having an interest or future stake in a high-quality healthcare system and having the experience that qualifies you to play a meaningful role in shaping that system. Patients who have earned that experience the hard way should not be devalued or disrespected by lumping them in with everyone who has had an annual physical in the same way a leading neurologist’s expertise would never be compared to someone who watched a documentary on the brain.