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Gregory A. Buford, M.D., FACS Headshot

The New Patient Manifesto: A Physician's Perspective

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Medicine has changed, and it has changed for the good. And as a patient, you are empowered and educated more than ever before. You are ready to tackle your health and wellness as an informed participant, but with this empowerment the patient-physician relationship has morphed into something completely different. As medical professionals, we must meet this challenge head-on to be in a position that we can interact with you to accomplish great things. But to do so, we must all be prepared to change.

As physicians, the amount of information absorbed in medical school was enormous, and we left confident that we could tackle the process of disease. But the question remains on whether we left with enough knowhow to actually do what is best for our patients on a more global and comprehensive level. Unfortunately, many did not.

The Internet has become a vast forum for dialogue through social media, and experts and authorities have come and gone, leaving behind a slew of information that has enabled you, the health care consumer, to not only better understand what is potentially ailing you but also what your true options are. But while much of this information is accurate, much of it is not. And therein lays the danger. It is imperative that we, as medical professionals, take on the responsibility of interacting and educating patients in a responsible manner and empower them to make solid and effective decisions related to their own care. Social media has become a driving force through which we are now able to instantly educate across borders, across languages, and across the world in a way never seen before. With this comes great responsibility for us to disseminate information that is accurate and that does not sell to you, our patient. We must engage you, and we must create dialogue. And those who do not will simply be left behind.

Another positive trend that has taken hold is the insight that your health is not disjointed and that overall wellness is the best way to potentially slow down the aging process and prevent disease preemptively. Many physicians, such as myself, who sub-specialized early on recognized that knowing everything about everything was simply not practical. And so we delved into small pockets and specific treatments and became experts in our respective areas. But in so doing, many forgot that these areas have always been connected to the whole, and by focusing so keenly we ignored the broad picture and failed to see the proverbial forest through the trees. It is now critical that we participate in cross talk with our colleagues across specialties and exchange information to expand knowledge of the human process overall and deliver the utmost in care to you. As a plastic surgeon, I am honored to have engaged with other medical leaders in fields such as dermatology, facial plastic surgery, internal medicine, and others to broaden my sense of you, the patient, and challenge my own knowledge base in the process. As a result, I am delivering care in a more engaging and rounded way than ever before and viewing your wellness in a completely different manner. When someone presents to me for liposuction, instead of simply discussing how I can remove fat we discuss the process and the evolution of how they actually got to this point. Are they eating correctly? Are they getting enough exercise? Are they addressing stress in their lives? Have they thought about having their hormones and various nutrient levels checked to see if these are age-appropriate? While I concentrate on the initial concerns, I also focus on the causes behind them and what needs to be done to achieve synergy in the long run.

Even with increasing control of your health care direction, optimal wellness is only achieved when you, the consumer, take full ownership of the steps and the lifestyle changes necessary to achieve it. Education is the first step, but although we know what we need to do, many of us simply don't do it. Compliance is then the second critical step toward success in the new patient-physician relationship. With compliance, great things can be accomplished. As once stated by the well-known Chinese philosopher Confucius, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Once we take that step, success means simply continuing the momentum. For any of us to achieve real and sustainable change, the goals must be realistic and the intent solid.

And so I encourage you as a proactive and engaged manager of your own health care to engage with us as your physicians. Understand that regardless of your background, your ethnicity, where you grew up, how much you make, or what your lifestyle is, we all share common elements, and we all must take personal responsibility for achieving the very best health possible. And when we create this dialogue and truly communicate, we build something that is far greater than we, as physicians, were ever taught in school. And that, in my opinion, is worth everything.

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