Healthcare organizations could do a better job of supporting patients in concrete ways, as well.
"Support groups are as needed today as they were 25 years ago," Geary says. "There's an array of issues that medical personnel cannot really address or don't have the time to address. The patient is not necessarily in need of physiological or therapeutic counseling, but they really want to meet someone who has gone through or is going through a similar experience."
Hospitals should play an active role in forming support groups to lessen the alienation that people newly diagnosed with a disease or condition feel, and increase their sense of empowerment, Geary says.
"People don't write grants to create support groups, they just kind of happen willy-nilly. And yet the benefits of them are just tremendous," he says. It would be "wonderful" if these groups were offered in a hospital setting.
"You treat someone at the hospital and then you send them home, and oftentimes you send them to a home where they don't have that type of emotional support available. They don't know other people with the illness. Certainly local AIDS organizations can help with that but a lot of people fall through the cracks," he says.
"This would be a great thing for hospitals to do more of. It's certainly low-cost to them and it would make their patients feel much more secure and probably a lot of the issues just in terms of time management … could so easily be handled within a support group. It would also have the benefit of empowering patients to be able to articulate more clearly what they need from their doctor-patient relationship."
This article appears in the December 2011 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.