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

A Roller Coaster of Love

225 weekly blog posts.  How do I do it?, a reader recently asked me. The health journey provides me endless material: fascination, intrigue, tragedy, empathy, frustration, wonder, curiosity, fear, and inspiration. As a nurse I’m blessed to participate in some of people’s most intimate moments as a guide, helper, ear, hand holder, and translator. As a team member and leader I study the puzzle of how people think, emote, decide, and relate trying to get anything done safely and ethically in the most consuming, illogical, nonsensical, complex system imaginable. My palette includes the desire and dilemma of habit change, the tangled web of cultures, the enticing potential and hype of technology, the flood and inaccessibility of data, the vital impossibility of policy change, and the insane contradiction of money surrounding,  driving, tempting, confounding health. Can I tease out the simple and illusive filaments of the magic levers of best health? What works, how do we know? How do we find, share, and use evidence? How is uncertainty communicated, how does information about groups of people relate to me, a single person?  I love sharing my broad and thin knowledge of health as a coach and a writer. As a person on my own health journey, writing this blog stokes my fire – feeding and renewing my pathological optimism. Actually, I start with a nut of an idea, sit down with that idea on Sunday and write. Takes about an hour. I used to read the drafts to my mom, now my wife. It never turns out the way I think it will. The post writes itself. I’m an old hippie – at the end of the day the health journey is a roller coaster of love. Thanks for the ride.  See you next week.

This week my son, Mike Funk, would have been 40. Lord, I miss you, Mike. You still inspire me. You’d be proud of your seasoning family.

Clinical Practice Guidelines – Oh My Aching Brain

Last time I saw my Primary Care Provider I asked if I needed to keep taking my Crestor, a drug to reduce cholesterol. She pulled out the clinical practice guideline for the treatment of blood cholesterol released by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. Every couple of years I ask her the same question. Do I really need this? Does it have long-term side effects I should worry about? I’m 63 years old, when can I stop because I’m too old? With insurance it costs me $300 a year out-of-pocket.

How many clinical practice guidelines are there? I could find no specific count – thousands I’m sure. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)’s National Guideline Clearinghouse lists 1975 guidelines.

Who writes guidelines? What is the evidence to support guidelines? Which guidelines apply to me? How often do guideline writers  rewrite them when new evidence comes to light? How long does it take for people at the center to become aware of guidelines and use them? Continue reading

I’m So Discouraged

Several times this week I heard a variation on: I’m so discouraged, I thought I was doing better. I just keep sliding back. I really suck at this. The topics: meditating every day, losing weight, managing anxiety, soloing, recovering from surgery. I heard each from more than one person. Several people said it about multiple things. One person, me, said it about losing weight and soloing. Two things strike me here. First, sucking and second sliding back. Can’t we give ourselves a break and celebrate that we’re trying? I’m trying to meditate every day, lose weight, improve my mental health, solo on my sax!!!! Yippee for me. Yippee for us!!! Recovering, healing, learning, changing habits doesn’t happen in a straight upward line, steadily better. It’s two steps forward, one step back. It’s up and down, first wildly so, then smaller cycles of up and down, over time with forward progress. Looking at just 2 data points only frustrates us, since we tend to recognize the down after the up, rather than the up after the down. In each of the scenarios someone heard the other and provided a good job, way to go, keep it up, keep me posted, call me anytime

I honor you’re work of healing, learning, recovering. Good job, way to go, keep me posted, call me anytime.

Screen-Free Sabbath

Week 3 of my wife and my Screen-Free Sabbath. Feels pretty good. After the first week it feels like a relief.  I’m reading more books – paper and not Kindle. Turned off my e-mail and social media notifications. They were all still there at sundown Saturday. No emergencies. Sitting still more often – some alone, some with my wife.  Got my recumbent trike out, tuned up and rode it. Had to buy some paper Sudoku books. It affects my week as well. I’m looking at the phone less often, meditating more. Still using the iPhone for texts and phone calls-have only received a few. Using it when playing my sax: playing my recorded rehearsals, metronome, etc. Sitting on the bus or subway more often looking at people and not the screen. Noticing the blue sky and spring colors. My grandson freaked out: Will I have to do it too? All week? OMG. He’s relieved that it’s just Grandma and Opa and not him, unless he’s at our flat sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  I’ve spoken to several parents who have 5-7p screen-free every day, others do a 24-hour period as we do.

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