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Expert patient policy

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By Sally Lindsay, Bert Vrijhoef

Published: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-921348-16-7
Pages: ii+78



Sally Lindsay
Institute for Social, Cultural and Policy Research
University of Salford, United Kingdom

Bert Vrijhoef
Department of Health Care Studies
Maastricht University, The Netherlands 

Reducing the incidence of chronic disease and health inequalities is a key priority for governments. Sociologists of health and illness have sharpened the realisation of the extent to which the management of chronic conditions is not in the direct control of health professionals but rather in that of patients and their informal carers.

This notion of 'expert patients' has recently emerged in health policy and is pivotal to government plans to modernise health care by linking patient expertise to ideas of empowerment, a better quality of life, self-esteem and a user-driven health system.

Although expert patient initiatives have many implications for patients, health care providers and broader social structures, there has been little discussion of this from a sociological perspective. This is important because sociology can help shed light on the impact of the expert patient agenda by opening the debate of whether, and the extent to which this agenda addresses patient needs, how patient-provider relations are changed, and whether inequalities in health and access to services are affected.

A sociological perspective may help to address how acceptable and applicable expert patient initiatives are to a wide range of patients, while considering the role that gender, race and social class play for example.

This special issue aims to stimulate debate on the controversy around 'expert patient' initiatives by providing a forum to discuss whether instilling information is adequate for patients to be able to self-manage their condition. Further, this issue aims to develop a better understanding of the mechanisms of engaging patients in self-care and the impact this has for patients, health care providers and larger social structures.

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