Powerful or Powerless in Healthcare?

Blog post by Colin Hung

“Knowledge is power” – Francis Bacon

It’s the week after the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, so a short #hcldr blog is just what we need to ease back into the regular routine. 🙂

Last week a headline from HealthcareScene caught my eye and it stuck with me: “Do You Feel Powerful or Powerless?” Such a simple question, yet so hard to answer when asked in a healthcare context.

On one hand, I feel more informed than I ever have before about my own health. I know what ailments I have. I know how hard I can push myself before I need to sleep. I know what foods I should eat to avoid feeling bloated and sluggish. I have a tracker that helps me establish my baseline heart rate and exercise pattern. I have a ton of data.

I also feel like a healthcare insider. I work in the industry. I have many friends and contacts that I can rely on for help/advice about healthcare. I stay informed by reading numerous blogs and articles each week. I attend more than 10 healthcare conferences each year. I know I can speak to anyone in the “healthcare insider” language.

If knowledge is truly power as Francis Bacon purports, then I should feel powerful when it comes to healthcare. Sadly I do not.

Despite the megabytes of personal health data I have access to, I have precious little access to my own health record. I only have the tiny pieces that I have been able to successfully request over the years. In terms of getting a full picture of my own health I feel powerless.

I’m also powerless when it comes to the specialists I see. The “free” Canadian healthcare system is such that specialists have waiting lists that are 12 months or longer. On top of that, you can only get in to see a specialist via referral from a primary care doctor who in turn is limited in who they can make referrals to.

For the entire week I considered the question of whether I feel powerful or powerless in healthcare and I did not come to a definitive conclusion. In some healthcare contexts I know I would feel powerless. In others I feel I have the insider knowledge to feel powerful. Is that normal?

As a fun exercise, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a nurse. Would I feel powerful or powerless? Again I came to no conclusion. Nurses are at the mercy of the shifts set by nurse managers. They have no choice of which patients they care for. I’m sure on many occasions they must feel very powerless in their role. Yet at the same time, nurses have tremendous power when it comes to implementing policy at the bedside. I have personally witnessed countless nurses “break the rules” and offer comfort to patients/families. I’ve seen them make requests for additional pain medications, move patients up on the priority list and give patients information that they didn’t have to. That’s powerful.

So who has the power in healthcare? Is it the administrators? The board of directors? Do insurance companies pull all the strings? Is it the government that has most of the power in healthcare? Perhaps it is pharma that has all the power? Or do patients actually have the most power in healthcare?

Please join us on Tuesday November 29th at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) when the #hcldr community will gather to discuss the following topics:

  • T1 Was there a time you felt powerful in a healthcare setting? What lead to that feeling?
  • T2 Was there a time you felt powerless in healthcare? How did you cope/overcome?
  • T3 Do you feel #digitalhealth will help patients, doctors, nurses gain power or will it make them feel more powerless?
  • T4 What can healthcare leaders do to help patients, doctors and nurses avoid feeling powerless?


“Do You Feel Powerful or Powerless?”, John Lynn, HealthcareIT Today, 22 November 2016, http://healthcareittoday.com/2016/11/22/do-you-feel-powerful-or-powerless/, accessed 26 November 2016

“Experiences of Powerlessness in End-of-Life Care”, Dr. David Batho, EoP Green Paper – The University of Essex, 2015, http://powerlessness.essex.ac.uk/experiences-of-powerlessness-in-end-of-life-care-green-paper, accessed 26 November 2016

“Feeling Powerful vs Being Powerful”, Steven Stosny, Psychology Today, 11 February 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201502/feeling-powerful-vs-being-powerful, accessed 26 November 2016

“How Mindfulness Meditation Can Transform Health Care”, Charles Francis, Huffington Post, 12 November 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-a-francis/how-mindfulness-meditation-can-transform-health-care_b_8494900.html, accessed 26 November 2016

“How to Go from Powerless to a Powerful Bedside Nurse”, Catherine Garner, Nurse Together, 17 September 2013, http://www.nursetogether.com/how-go-powerless-powerful-bedside-nurse, accessed 26 November 2016

“The Phenomenon of Powerlessness in the Elderly”, Dana E Dryer, College of Nursing and Health Sciences Saginaw Valley State University, 2005, https://www.svsu.edu/media/writingcenter/Dryer_article.pdf, accessed 22 November 2016

Image Credit

Victory – Tom Newby https://flic.kr/p/7NXSfq

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