For all licensed healthcare professionals, patient advocacy is a core value. One way in which advocacy is expressed is by helping a patient understand the various choices available to them by exploring the evidence for and benefits vs. drawbacks of each choice. In so doing, the patient's understanding of health and science knowledge is expanded, and the healthcare professional develops a deeper understanding of their patient's individual needs, concerns and barriers.
A code of ethics, present for all licensed healthcare professionals, guides and supports the communication of science-based information for the benefit of the patient. For consumers, it's helpful to know which healthcare professionals are eligible for licensure in our state by checking the Missouri Division of Professional Registration website at pr.mo.gov/professions.asp.
Having grown up on a Mid-Missouri farm and working as a registered dietitian for the last 20 years, I've had the opportunity to observe and experience first-hand how developments in marketing have complicated patient and consumer advocacy efforts by experienced professionals. In my area of practice, it seems any discussion of food, agriculture and health quickly generates all kinds of competing opinions and views. Most often, though, individual opinions have been shaped by online information and social media memes rather than science-based education and years of real-life experience. In his 2017 best-selling book, "The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters," Tom Nichols offers these observations about information gleaned from the internet:
"The most obvious problem is that the freedom to post anything online floods the public square with bad information and half-baked thinking. The internet lets a billion flowers bloom, and most of them stink, including everything from the idle thoughts of random bloggers and the conspiracy theories of cranks all the way to the sophisticated campaigns of disinformation conducted by groups and government. This, of course, is no more and no less than an updated version of the basic paradox of the printing press. The internet is the printing press at the speed of fiber optics."
Given the recent indictments of Russian nationals who reportedly used social media to fuel anger and divisiveness among Americans, we citizens are humbly discovering our emotional susceptibility to information on the internet. We are also learning how the use of this technology is directly impacting our real-life relationships, professional ethical commitments and shared lives within our communities, businesses and nation. We each, as individuals, must reflect on this question: "Are we and our actions part of the solution or the problem?" We humans struggle with our desire to be all-knowing and our reluctance to be intellectually humble. We need experienced and trustworthy experts more than ever.
I have fond memories of my childhood physician who lived in our community, attended our church, knew our family and, when necessary, made house calls. While we might yearn for simpler times past, our challenge today seems to be the conservation of basic human values as we adopt progressive updates to our systems and institutions. Patient and consumer advocacy never go out of style and will remain a common core value in healthcare.
Lisa L. Finley, RD, LD is the program coordinator for the Weight Management Center at Jefferson City Medical Group.