Patient Engagement

Selling Hope Is Not Giving Hope

In the consumer world, when I buy a car, I can pay more, get more, and get what I want.

Salesman: What car do you want?

Me: 5 wheels, be able to fly, drive itself, give lame excuses when I forget to do something — oh and comes in red.

Salesman: But that doesn’t exist.

Me: I don’t care. Here’s a quadrillion bazillion dollars!

Salesman: Ok — Let me see what I can do.

As a consumer — I hope to get something — and marketers and businesses will hone in on that desire and do their best to meet them.

In the healthcare world though, it doesn’t quite work this way, especially when dealing with a chronic illnesses with no cure. You may try to pay more, but that doesn’t mean you can change the outcome — you still don’t get better.

Chronic illness is a disease process that gradually causes more and more health problems. It does not care who you are, where you come from, or your accomplishments. In its eyes, you’re just a collection of biochemical reactions and cellular tissue. Disease didn’t care who Christopher Reeves was, neither did it care what Steve Jobs accomplished. We’re all the same.

As a physiotherapist who works with patients suffering from complex and debilitating chronic conditions everyday, I find that accepting this concept can often be difficult for many people. Maybe it’s because we’ve been sold a popular culture of always beating the odds, or never giving up hope — I don’t know.

Now I’m not saying that there’s no point to hope, in fact, it is absolutely indispensable. I rely upon it everyday with my patients. It’s what helps us get through a particularly difficult patch in a person’s recovery. What is wrong is hope masquerading as false hope. In these situations, selling hope does more harm than good.

False hope will delay and even prevent you from reaching achievable goals — things that healthcare professionals can help with.

Giving real hope is seeing my patients carry on by learning to cope with their disease.

There are few situations where patients and families are most vulnerable than when going through a chronic disease process. The consumer world knows this. From magnetic pain-zapping bracelets to promising new digital solutions, it is difficult for anybody to discern good information from the bad.

That is why it is so important to not only get the right advice from a recognized and regulated health professional, but also someone you trust and can work with to set priorities for your particular situation.

You have a right to be skeptical. Ask questions.

In the healthcare world, we have a moral and ethical obligation to not simply tell patients what they want to hear. We’re in the business of giving hope, not selling it.

– Owen Wong, April 2015

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Owen Wong, is a registered physiotherapist who works in the “healthcare world” with patients managing chronic and complex care needs. Currently, he is working on a new e-health solution that provides online healthcare advice that can be used and trusted. For more information, see:

Twitter: @judithguide


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