Alone

I first thought about care partners 20 some years ago when my oldest son invited me to spend a few hours with his team heading to Zimbabwe for development aid work. “Talk to us about health, Pop.  What do we need to know?” I remember telling them “keep it zipped up” and “buddy up with a health partner. The health partner commits to sticking with you if you get sick, come hell or high water. Let’s buddy up now”   Six months later, my wife and I received a letter (before email) from Zimbabwe after we hadn’t heard from our son in 2 months. She wrote, “I am your son’s health partner.  He’s OK. He got malaria and just got out of the hospital. I wanted to let you know”

Today, as I advocate for care partners, I wonder,  “What if my son hadn’t had a health partner?” What happens to all these people who don’t have care partners? They are alone.

Ecclesiastes 4:10 – For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him up.

This week, Keren Landin, a scientist at Tuft’s, opened my eyes to social networks. Read this book, Connected, by her mentor or watch this YouTube TED Talk. The good news: almost everyone is connected to someone.  Key words: almost and someone. To me that means there are still those with no one and sometimes someone doesn’t include a caregiver or care partner. Continue reading

Guests on People’s Health Journeys

As I learn more about and am sought out more as an expert in patient engagement, empowerment, and activation, I struggle to respond to the health-system centric definitions given by people thinking they are patient-centric or want to become patient centric. Stuff like, ‘How do we make patients feel like they were included in decision-making.  I say, “wait a minute, think of it as if you were the guest in patients’ health care journeys.”

I first thought about being the guest in someone’s health care journey 25 years ago when I worked with my sister-in-law, Peggy Boland, a staff nurse in an Intensive Care Unit in Cobleskill, NY. She inspired and taught me much. She would knock on the doorway and ask if she could come in, even if the patient was unconscious. She’s say, “I’m going to turn you now. Ok with you?” She’d greet every person who came into a space she was in. She respected thresholds and personal space.  A very busy person, caring for many people, she’d ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?” and do it or say, “I’ll be back in x minutes and do that.” She always made it her business to know family members and find out who would be the care partner in the ICU and at home. She included them in all activities, teaching how to help move, feed, and toilet the patient. “It’s good for you to know this, it’ll be easier than this when you get home, but harder than before you came in. Any questions?” She was proactively curious and helpful. She explained and taught all the time. At the beginning of each shift Peggy would meet with the patient and care partner, “Here’s what I have on my list to accomplish today. What’s on your list?” Then, “Ok, let’s do this, at that time.” Collaborative care planning. Continue reading

Your Communities Need You!

Black Lives Matter! Disability Rights! Women’s Right to Choose! Gimme My DaM Data! Calls to action. In the early 60’s my parents were Fair Housing activists. They were the first whites in Illinois to adopt mixed race children and were the first whites in their all white neighborhood to sell  their house to an African American couple. They successfully invited Martin Luther King to speak in their suburban high school.  In the late 60’s I marched against the Vietnam War, sat in, and became a draft counselor. Now I advocate for people at the center of health care.

What motivates people to advocate for change?  What actions do people take? For my immigrant parents, , the Civil Rights Movement opened their eyes to discrimination in their community. As holocaust survivors they knew discrimination. Some of my heroes in healthcare transformation, such as @CristinLind, @ePatientDave, @ReginaHolliday, Mary Anne Sterling, and @JackWhelan experience the craziness of healthcare. They take political, community, and personal action.

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Leading as Caregiver – It’s Complicated

Last week I wrote about Leadership, the Gift That Keeps on Giving. Several e-mails asked about the challenge of leading a health team in the role of caregiver.  Great question! A challenge of leading in a sometimes hostile confederacy of people who don’t even know they’re on a team. Same dilemma as the person who’s on the health journey plus leading when it’s not your life, but a loved one’s. Let’s make it crazier still, as caregiver, you might not want to lead, but there’s a vacuum sucking you in.

In my work life as a leader I see my role to attend to self-care of whole team, get stuff out of the team’s way so they can do their job, listen to what they need, advocate for them, keep them informed about the larger organization, set the tone and culture by example, delegate, keep things moving, plan for succession, and be trustworthy.

How does that help me as a caregiver? One thing I noticed about my mom during her last months – when alert she paid a lot of attention to the well-being of her team. As a caregiver leading that’s a challenge and maybe the most important job.  The person you’re caring for may take self-care of the rest of the team as minor desertions.  But the team can’t support unless they’re as well as possible in the midst of the stress. So I guess that the caregiver leader sets the tone of self-care by example. Getting stuff out of the way can mean helping to arrange schedules, transportation, meals, equipment, meds, and communication channels.  When my son Mike was dying, we had a weekly family call, Friday’s at 7p where we reviewed the past week’s events, next week’s schedule of appointments, needs of everyone, divvied up work and figured out who to ask for what. People often come out of the woodwork to help, but don’t know how. They can be a pain if they don’t know. Given direction they’re a blessing. Continue reading

Leadership – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

I felt so empowered by the best boss ever, Jim Bulger, Executive Director of a managed care company.  After I had been Director of Quality Management for 3 months, I told Jim that I didn’t think we were moving along at the speed he wanted us to go. “What do you think we should do?” Jim asked.  “Frankly, I think we need to start with you.” OMG, what had I said?  Have I no filters?!! To my joy and consternation, Jim responded, “Ok, teach me. Every morning 7am, 30 minutes, your agenda.” I had to get my act together fast. Several years later I asking Jim why he had done that. “I would have been an idiot not to. I hired you, didn’t I?” This was a gift to me.  A gift of trust, a gift of leadership.  I’ve learned over the years to value this gift of leadership.

Leadership is a foundation stone of maximizing the experience of people at the center of care. It’s not sufficient, but it’s necessary. Many opportunities exist to steer the boat, set the tone, build trust, value contributions, empower, take care of each other – opportunities for leadership. You can lead an organization. You can lead a team. Leader can be in your title or not. You can lead for a moment or a career. There is no ultimate leader.  It’s a relative position – a relationship position.

My mom led her health team during end-of-life. She set the tone, admitted and expelled team members. She set the culture. Once you were admitted to her team she listened to and empowered. It worked well. It’s an art as a leader to pull back and let others lead. She chose to lead. Continue reading

AACH: Communication and Relationships

I attended the American Academy of Communication in Healthcare Conference in New Haven. The AACH is the professional home for all committed to improving communication and relationships in healthcare. About 200 people attended from US, Canada, Israel, Brazil, Belgium, Australia. Although most attendees were physicians, I met nurses, therapists, coaches, office managers, patients, sociologists, medical students, and researchers. A couple of very low-key sponsors but no vendors present. A pleasant relief. The conference was designed to maximize interaction, learn from each other, and build skills within work groups and special interest groups. Met several venerable experts. Very open and quite humble: We have a lot to learn. Especially about patient centeredness. Most exciting for me was a presentation by Sharon Schindler Rising, a nurse midwife, talking about Centering Groups – facilitated groups of 6-10 young moms/couples preparing for the impending birth of a child. A wonderful example of people-centered design with participants directing much of the flow of the monthly small groups. Professionals and services came to them. Groups often kept meeting on their own after the children reach one year old, sometimes for 8-10 years. New groups have been starting for decades. Evidence over that time showed significant increase in proportion of pregnancies going to full term and decrease in the proportion of low birth weight babies. One sad piece of the presentation was the description of the barrier caused by the advent of the electronic health record. One participant-generated practice had been for moms and dads to enter their own health data into the paper record: instant empowerment!  Not so with electronic record. People could no longer enter their own data into the health record. Shadow records had to be created. Lord, I was crushed when I heard this. I participated in several subsequent discussions about the infrastructure and skill set that would be needed to spread the Centering Group model to other settings. Instant learning!! Continue reading

Transitions – What you don’t know can hurt you

Still exploring communication across transitions.  This week speaking with clinicians. First, with case managers in an acute, short-term rehabilitation center serving people with recent strokes, heart conditions, or surgeries needing less than a month of intensive therapy. The transition points between nurses shift to shift, between physicians and between case managers, between patients, families, and primary care clinicians at discharge worked the best because they’re well documented and standardized. Tools are in place for the sharing of information. Either the hand-offs between clinicians are routine or patient education notebooks are completed the same for every patient: not the same contents but the same workflow. Since it’s not acute care (short stays)  there  is more for hand-offs and to develop relationships with the patient and their caring network and time for patients and families to absorb the instructions. A considerable volume of paper is generated, resulting in lots to read and lots to fax (everything by fax!). Maybe too much to read.  Information coming in with patients was less complete than information going out with patients. Communication was better in general and more complete if a person received all their care within the same health system.  The biggest risk? Not receiving information about critical medications, such as blood thinners, steroids, and antidepressants.

Next, a community Primary Care clinic. Again, communication best when a person is discharged from a hospital within the same health system as their clinic. Then a nurse knows when someone is going to be discharged or has been discharged.  The nurse calls the patient at home and can let the doctor know that the patient has their prescriptions filled, knows what to do, or if anything needs attention. For the patient discharged from a hospital outside the health system, the clinic often doesn’t know the patient was even in the hospital and has to scramble to gather information so they can support the person. The transition from home to office works least well.  Someone calls the office needing an appointment or has a question or needs a prescription filled. The quality of screening, triage, and information gathering varies widely  The more the patient or caregiver takes charge, the better the communication with the call center the better the clinic visit goes. Transition communication with specialists outside the system seemed quite a challenge without a common EHR for communication. Continue reading

Deconstructing the Tower of Babel

I’ve spent the week immersed in this communication dilemma in healthcare.   As I’ve said before, I’m amazed that any communication occurs in healthcare – a constant unfolding Tower of Babel. Way too big of a topic. Let’s narrow (as the solar system is a narrowing of the universe) to communication across thresholds and boundaries. Some examples:

  1. Between clinicians (same profession, same agency, same department): such as nurse to nurse, doctor to doctor, shift to shift, day-to-day
  2. Between professionals (different profession, same agency, same department): such as nurse to doctor, therapist to doctor, counselor to nurse, paramedic to nurse)
  3. Between clinician and patient or family caregiver (within a hospital stay or clinic visit or community setting)
  4. Across departments or levels of care (inpatient, rehab, home, clinic, emergency, intensive and long-term care,  are all levels of care) within a hospital, clinic, or system: such as clinician to clinician, direct care or support staff to anyone
  5. Across levels of care (everything in 4. above plus jail, homeless shelter, community residence, supported living)  sometimes called discharge planning, care management, consultations, questions involving just about anyone in the center of care.

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Fractured Communication in Crises

This week two of my readers described experiences of fractured communication with their clinicians.  One reader, a person in acute treatment for overwhelming anxiety, found himself watching and feeling the effects of dueling clinicians with widely differing diagnoses, medication regimens, and styles of communication. A collaborative, listening, empathetic physician versus a paternalistic, blameful, arrogant physician. Both physicians practiced in the same organization but in adjacent levels of care (one inpatient and the other outpatient). They didn’t coordinate care – they didn’t even speak to each other. The person with acute anxiety had to muster energy to advocate for himself and seek help from his partner. To little effect.  The other reader experienced a sickle-cell crisis in a hospital without a sickle-cell specialist.  She couldn’t get pain medication known to work for her.  She was classified as a drug seeker.  The treating physician wouldn’t communicate with the specialist who had treated this reader successfully many times and managed her long-term care.

So many levels of outrage here. How is it that institutions, practices, and people working in these two programs don’t know about disrespect, poor communication skills and lack of coordination within? Does nobody raise a red flag?  Where was the medical record? Where were the leaders? Continue reading

Scared?

My friend, Phyllis, in Cleveland suggested I might be asking the wrong question: “What works for me when I’m scared and what doesn’t?” You may recall that readers who have been patients and caregivers have been adamant that this is a key piece of information that should be in the electronic health record, especially needed in the ER. In 5+ years of advocacy I’ve been unable to generate interest from IT wonks. Anyway, I was whining about my ineffectiveness to Phyllis.

So let’s break it down a bit more. I’ve never met anyone in an unexpected health situation who wasn’t scared. Scared looks like: startled, numb, stomach ache, sweating, heart racing, catastrophizing , panicked……

It’s good to know in advance what helps settles me down. Deep breaths, meditation, hold my hand, a good laugh, quiet, a walk, listening to John Lennon, my wife and family, more information, respect from those around me plus listening to me, Ativan. My mom needed a hand to hold, control, opera. My friend needs someone from his immediate family and information, reduced stimulus, quiet, to be kept warm, headphones with classical musical. We all can use something. The unexpected health care situation can vary. My chronic condition, MS, could flare up – known yet unexpected.  You could break your leg – an accident plus pain. You could have a heart attack or kidney stones – sudden, debilitating, with pain. You could be alone or with someone you trust – very different scenarios. Continue reading