Meet Patient Advocate, Katie Hutchison

Meet first-year Katie Hutchison! Although new to Agnes, she brings with her a lot of enthusiasm about a particular topic that isn’t as commonly discussed: patient advocacy. Her Campus sat down with Katie on Saturday to discuss patient advocacy and what exactly that means to her.

HC: So you’ve said you’re really big on patient advocacy. What exactly does that mean?

KH: Patient advocacy is basically ensuring that doctors aren’t just treating diseases but that they’re treating the patients as well. One thing that’s really hard about it is when it comes to ethics. So if a person is going through, say cancer treatment, it can be debilitating. It can stop you from doing your daily activities and make people unable to read and write. Patient advocacy is figuring out what the person needs and wants and making sure that they have all their options presented to them in a fair and equal way, so they can make the best decisions for their family. Because going through the doctor’s first course of treatment is not necessarily what’s best for them.

HC: What do you mean by that?

KH: Like, the doctor’s first course of treatment might make a person unable to read or write, and then they have to stop working. When they stop working, you know, bills pile up. So even though medical treatment can be financially debilitating, it especially can be emotionally debilitating when you start getting into family dynamics. You really have to make sure you’re doing what’s best for the patient, and not all doctors do that, unfortunately.

HC: What are some ways you can advocate for patients?

KH: One of the biggest things is making sure that there’s transparency between doctors and their patients. There’s actually a website that is out right now where you can type in your doctor’s name and it will show you what drug companies are paying them. So if your doctor is really pushing for a specific medicine, you can go online and see if that drug company is paying them to say that. That really helps for transparency, so I think we need more programs like that. Even asking for political changes for more transparency is really important. There definitely needs to be systematic changes, but that will come as more people ask for them. So if more and more people really start asking questions like “Is this the best treatment for me?”, “How is this going to affect my family life?”, that will help a lot. Doctors also need to stop using scare tactics.

HC: What are scare tactics?

KH: Scare tactics are a big thing in the medical industry. They’re scaring people into thinking if they don’t get this specific treatment, they’re gonna die. And that’s just not fair to patients and their families. There are other options a lot of the time. For instance, instead of doing surgery right away you could do chemo first and work towards surgery. Or work on diet and exercise so you’re strong enough to fight back against some of those side effects. Just things like that. You just need to ask doctors to be honest with you. Doctors who use scare tactics need to be held accountable. If you see those kinds of practices, you need to report it and keep them accountable. There needs to be a big change in keeping doctors accountable and making sure that they’re being 100% open and honest with their patients. It seems like it should be happening, but it’s not.

HC: Okay, so what about at the institutional level? Are changes happening? Are there bills that people are working on?

KH: I definitely think there are some changes happening, like that website. I think they are trying to start transparency laws for doctors, but I don’t know how far those bills have gone. I know that it is being worked on, though. There’s definitely a lot of things that need to happen still that haven’t happened yet.

HC: Anything else you want to add?

KH: We really just need to start taking patients and their family’s lives into consideration more, and I think really holding doctors accountable is the biggest thing we can do.

HC: And just to let us know a little more about you, do you know what you’re majoring in yet?

KH: Yes, most likely biology, but my advisor is thinking maybe biochem…

HC: Do you know what you’re going to do with that?

KH: Yeah! I wanna go into clinical research through a medical program.

HC: Awesome! Sounds like a great plan. And what are you personally doing right now to advocate for patients?

KH: Right now I’m mainly just trying to get the word out, but I’m also looking at shadowing programs and working with my academic advisor to find ways I can help make a difference.

Thanks so much to Katie for explaining patient advocacy to us! We can’t wait to see what she does in the future. If you’d like to learn more about the subject, you can read about the Patient Advocate Foundation or the National Patient Safety Foundation. If you need to speak up about a doctor, you can find information at the Assertive Patient.