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Our most powerful weapon to fight COVID-19 is patient involvement

Guest commentary: The COVID-19 crisis has brought new urgency to the need for participation by informed patients.

The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the issue of the patient voice in healthcare and healthcare policy to the front of the global agenda.

From social distancing, quarantines and the wearing of masks, to questions surrounding the urgency of vaccines, hygiene, clinical trials, emergency use authorizations, testing and convalescent plasma, the world has moved beyond general issues like health literacy to a more crucial one -- the role of the patient voice in partnering to save our species from a devastating virus, though informed and active participation.

Most of the attention has gone to our armamentarium of medical weapons to fight the COVID-19 virus -- swifter and more accurate testing, re-purposed approved and experimental medicines, and expedited vaccine development. But it is the active participation of patients and, more broadly, the general population that has “flattened the curve.”

The pandemic has resulted in an evolution of healthcare rhetoric. From a healthcare policy perspective, we’ve been discussing “the patient voice” in a passive manner.

“What the patient voice must fight for is respect and a recognition of mutual value.”

Peter Pitts, Center for Medicine in the Public Interest

An important lesson from the COVID-19 experience is that we must now shift to a more comprehensive understanding of “patient actions.”

Key to understanding patients' actions during the current crisis is an assessment of the myths and facts that have driven them.

This raises a crucial question -- how can truthful, accurate and non-misleading information be made available to non-medical professionals? From whom should it come? What are the best methods of communication? The circumstances surrounding hydroxychloroquine highlight both the power of hope and the dangers of hyperbole.

As with any ecosystem, the component parts of our healthcare systems are not necessarily equal to each other, but they are all requirements for success. What the patient voice must fight for is respect and a recognition of mutual value. It is not a question of 'equal' but of ‘integral.’

The global struggle against COVID-19 is World War III and we are all conscripted. Whether you are a physician, nurse, hospital technician, academic researcher, biopharmaceutical executive, police officer, fire-fighter, teacher, politician, parent, patient or caregiver you have a powerful and active role to play. When cities are burning and casualties are mounting there is no place for casual observers. We must all shoulder our metaphorical rifles and march forward together.

All the more reason to elevate a discussion of the 21st century patient voice in healthcare. In the words of W. Edwards Deming, “Change is not required. Survival is not mandatory.” We mustn’t pass up these opportunistic teaching moments.

Peter J. Pitts, a former FDA Associate Commissioner and Visiting Professor at the University of Paris, is President of the Center for Medicine in the Pubic Interest.
Signed commentaries do not necessarily reflect the views of BioCentury.

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