Seeing a Patient as a Person

Adam Husney, MD, Chief Medical Officer

I can’t tell you the million reasons why someone might choose a career in medicine. What I can tell you is that nobody ever decided to become a doctor because he or she wanted to treat lab numbers alone instead of treating the actual patient with those numbers.

The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) recently published new guidelines around cholesterol management, and what resulted was refreshing. In developing these guidelines, the ACC and AHA first asked what the key questions were with respect to caring for patients. Then they looked at the medical literature to find answers to those questions.

The resulting guidelines ask clinicians to focus on a person’s individual risk and not on that person’s cholesterol numbers. The ACC and AHA recommend that people at the highest risk for heart disease or stroke take statins to reduce that risk. For people whose risk is not as high, the guidelines recommend an informed decision by the patient as to whether to take statins to help reduce risk. Target LDL numbers have been abandoned.

At Healthwise, we love informed decision making because it gets to the things that are most important. It marries the medicine with the values and preferences that matter most to each individual. When I am sitting across from a patient, I don’t see a number. I see a person who not only has a medical issue, but also has a family, motivations, joys, and fears. As a provider, I find that there is little better than having a patient completely understand the issues and make a decision that is right for him or her (even when it is different from what I might have thought was the right decision).

The new guidelines are a step in the right direction for treating a single patient instead of a population and for treating a person instead of a number. And the new guidelines are a sign of the future: ensuring that the patient’s voice is stronger in his or her own care and that the system is built around the patient, not the other way around.