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Expert patients

The term ‘expert patient’ describes patients who manage their own long-term health conditions.

David Tucket and colleagues at the University of Cambridge coined the term in 1985. Tucket studied thousands of doctor-patient consultations. He argued medical care could improve if doctors accepted patients as experts of their own medical disorders. Doctors were an important authority on medicine, but patients could also be knowledgeable in managing their condition.

Though not a new phenomenon, health self-management became increasingly popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Psychologists such as Albert Bandura developed theories of self-efficacy. These were ways to help people realise they could manage aspects of their life such as health. Patients with long-term conditions such as diabetes took more control of their health and relied less on the medical profession.

The rise of the expert patient went hand in hand with the growth of the internet in the 1990s. Patients with access to online medical information could discover more about their conditions, and understand and control the medical treatment they received. By taking control of their illness, expert patients often need fewer visits to doctors. They are considered to have a better quality of life.

Since the 1990s, patient experience has been given greater significance within medical training. State health-care systems have adopted education programmes to train more patients with chronic illnesses to become expert patients.



N Fox, K Ward and A O’Rourke, ‘The ‘expert patient’: empowerment or medical dominance? The case of weight loss, pharmaceutical drugs and the Internet’, Social Science & Medicine, 60 (2005), pp 1299-1309

A Rogers, ‘Advancing the Expert Patient?’ Primary Health Care Research & Development, 10 (Jul 2009), pp 167-76

D Tuckett et al., Meetings Between Experts: An Approach to Sharing Ideas in Medical Consultations (New York: Taylor & Francis, 1985)

Department of Health, The Expert Patient - A New Approach to Chronic Disease Management for the 21st Century (London: Department of Health, 2001)

J Shaw, and M Baker, ‘Expert patient: dream or nightmare?’, British Medical Journal, 328 (2004), pp 723–724