Studies have revealed that a patient’s perceptions of their illness might have a significant impact on their health outcomes.

One such study, published in 2004, involved having myocardial infarction patients draw pictures of their hearts. In comparison to patients who drew no damage onto their pictures, researchers found that patients who indicated some form of damage on the drawing of their hearts had greater negative perceptions about their condition. This included the perception of a slower rate of recovery and a weaker sense of control over their condition.

It was even found that the amount of damage drawn on their pictures was correlated with how quickly they returned to work. This therefore reveals that a patient’s perceptions of their illness could possibly be an accurate predictor of health outcomes.

This might be so because a patient’s perceptions are often linked to their beliefs about their illness; such perceptions subsequently affect attitudes towards recovery, adherence to prescribed treatment plans, and eventually could even have implications on overall mortality. Therefore, it is important to realise that producing an accurate diagnosis and proposing an excellent treatment plan might not be always be enough to cure a patient of his or her illness. However, as a healthcare professional, there are some steps you can take to cultivate a positive mindset in your patients regarding their illness.

1. Talk to patients to understand their beliefs

Before prescribing a treatment plan, talk to your patients and ensure that you understand their point of view when it comes to the illness. For example, you might want to find out what the patient believes to be the cause of their illness and their perceived chance of recovery. Especially for major illnesses, it is important to also find out how the patient’s perception towards his illness has affected his everyday life.

2. Manage patients’ perceptions and point them in the right direction

After assessing your patient’s attitude towards his illness, you might have uncovered certain misconceptions held by your patient or realised that they are highly rooted in negativity. If this is so, attempt to point them in the right direction and correct their misconceptions.

While you should not paint an unrealistic and excessively optimistic picture of their illness and chances of recovery, it would be good to be encouraging and increase their confidence, which would give them a greater sense of control over their illness.

3. Let patients know that their perception matters

Once you have come to a decision about a treatment plan, let your patients know what their treatment entails. It would also be good to answer questions they have about their illness so that they have an accurate understanding of their condition.

Additionally, if they carry doubts with regards to the treatment, it is especially important to help them understand how the treatment is supposed to work and its possible side effects. Negative side effects in the initial stages of treatment may catch a patient by surprise, and lead them to think that instead of helping them, the treatment is useless and harmful, which could subsequently result in non-adherence to the treatment plan. Patients also need to recognise that they themselves have the responsibility in taking action towards their recovery.

In considering the potential significance of a patient’s perceptions, it is therefore crucial for healthcare professionals to take into account their patients’ attitudes and beliefs when prescribing treatments and assessing its efficacy. Adopting such an approach would thus greatly improve a patient’s receptivity to treatment and potentially lead to faster recovery. MIMS

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