Health perception is a patient’s assessment of his or her own personal health. This may differ from an assessment by a care provider, which can present problems in the treatment of health conditions. Patient outcomes tend to improve when patients are well-informed about their health and feel empowered to make decisions, and when care providers and patients have similar perceptions of the patient’s condition. A number of tools can be used to find out more about a patient’s health perception.
Intake interviews in medical offices often include some questions about health perception. Patients may be asked about how they feel, generally, and if they have any specific health concerns. If a patient expresses concerns about a mediocre level of health, the doctor can ask more questions to find out why the patient feels that way. Other questions can ascertain whether the patient lives a healthy lifestyle, and understands how issues like activity levels and diet can impact health.
When a patient’s health perception is much lower than that of a doctor, this may be an indicator that the patient is depressed or frustrated. In a patient with chronic pain, for example, the doctor might consider the condition under control. The patient may feel like the pain is relentless and intolerable, indicating that the level of control is not satisfactory. By working together, the patient and care provider can determine what the problem is and how to address it.
Conversely, patients may report that they are very healthy when evidence suggests they are not. This may result from a variety of factors. Patients may be in a state of denial about health issues, or so accustomed to them that they don’t feel like a problem. Some chronic illnesses onset slowly and subtly, and patients may feel any worse than usual when clinical signs become evident to a doctor. Patients may report feeling “great,” for example, when they are at very high risk of heart attack.
Realigning health perception may require a consultation with the patient and testing to find out more about the patient’s general level of health. Once the doctor and the patient have a more thorough understanding of the perspective on the other side of the exam table, they may find it easier to work together. For example, a patient who understands the serious cardiovascular risks of high blood pressure might be more committed to treatment in spite of an originally positive health perception.