Intended for healthcare professionals


“Expert patient”—dream or nightmare?

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 25 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:723
  1. Joanne Shaw, director (,
  2. Mary Baker, president, European Federation of Neurological Associations
  1. Medicines Partnership, London SE1 7JN
  2. Mayford GU22 0SH

    The concept of a well informed patient is welcome, but a new name is needed

    Since the chief medical officer for England first introduced the term expert patient, it has been picked up and used very widely.1 During this time, the notion of the expert patient seems to have been criticised by doctors at least as much as it has been welcomed.2 If one asks lawyers, architects, social workers, or management consultants whether they prefer clients who take an interest in the issues they face and are motivated to work in partnership to achieve successful results, the answer seems obvious. So why does the idea of expert patients provoke such antipathy within the medical profession?

    We know from reading the press and listening to the debate that when doctors come across the term “expert patient” they hear different things. For the chief medical officer, expert patients are “people who have the confidence, skills, information and knowledge to play a central role in the management of life with chronic diseases.”1 The suspicion is that for many doctors, the expert patient of the imagination is the one clutching a sheaf of printouts from the internet, demanding a particular treatment that is unproved, manifestly unsuitable, astronomically expensive, or all three. Or, …

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