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Power to the Patient!

September 30, 2010 By:
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"Take two tablets and call me in the morning" is the proverbial advice offered up by many a doctor to a less-than-seriously sick patient.

But must that divine advice -- and those tablets -- be as revered as the 10 Commandments?

Thou shall not ... contradict your doctor?

Au contraire, argues Elizabeth Cohen, senior medical correspondent for CNN's Health, Medical and Wellness Unit, whose documentary, "The Empowered Patient" screens on the network, beginning Oct. 2, at 7 p.m.

It's being shown just as her medical-advice book of the same name comes out in paperback.

Power to the patient? Bedside manner being beside the point, says Cohen, the patient must argue for his or her rights. Citing and writing about cogent cases -- including that of leukemia-stricken actor Evan Handler -- she offers her own Rx of an X-ray for roaring back at a medical system so convoluted not even a chiropractor could take a crack at it.

Oh, that Cohen is such a "bad" girl. Yes, she says, she is and notes in the book that being "bad" is "good" -- that's what makes her such an effective patient, knowing when to just say no to what is instinctively a doc's wrong call.

Being an effective patient is knowing when to just say no to what is instinctively a doc's wrong call.

She should know -- it hit home with her baby Shir's traumatic entrapment within the system, with unneeded spinal taps ordered that would tap into her mother's suspicion that the system was symptomatic of a bigger malaise.

The broadcaster's mother also was the victim of a major misdiagnosis.

"In many ways, the system, in general, does not work as it should," she says.

Coming from a family of physicians, Cohen herself purports "to have been blessed with excellent care."

Hippocratic Oafs
But it is caring for others who get wrong diagnoses, prescribed pills meant for other patients, IV lines meant as lifelines loaded with the wrong prescriptive liquid -- that's why she wrote The Empowered Patient and made its companion documentary, both accumulating anxious examples of Hippocratic oafs.

Given what happens in the system, she says, "there's obviously something wrong."

Her book/special -- based on her popular weekly CNN column -- calibrate what goes wrong and what can fix it. It's not so much that one has to have chutzpah to talk back to one's doctor, or question him, says the Jewish broadcaster, as it is "having the bravery to speak up."

Cohen is combative in a healthy way, armed to do battle with the bathetic. Her book is replete with suggestions, such as which websites to visit for expert articles on whichever disease/illness that requires research, and how to reject some insurance-company-rejected claims. There's specific, rather than generic advice -- except in how to nail cheaper prescriptions.

"I deal in realities," she says. "There are times you have to fight."

Going rounds with the system may require some friendly advice, which is why, she says, it's good "to rely on other patients" who have gone through similar struggles.

And just how welcome will she be next time at her own doctor's office? He hasn't seen the documentary yet, claims Cohen, but "a good doctor welcomes an empowered patient."

As for those who don't, well, it's time to leave that doctor's practice with the ultimate rejoinder, a shout-out usually reserved for nurses combing crammed waiting rooms worldwide: "Next!" 

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