Should I or Shouldn’t I? Managing Uncertainty

Have you ever remodeled your kitchen? So many decisions: Cabinet style, drawers, finish, hardware, not to mention the floor and appliances. There’s you, your partner, a contractor, a cabinet person, a floor person, the appliance merchant. Decision after decision – should we or shouldn’t we? And nobody’s gonna die or get injured – hopefully.  All while trying to keep living, cooking, dishes, lunches. My wife and I were so stressed.  Kitchen decisions pale next to health decisions, especially medical decisions. It’s not like, “do I prefer this drawer pull to that drawer pull?” “Would I rather have wood or tile floors?” There is so much more uncertainty in health care.

Why me, why now? Who says? How sure are they? What if I do? What if I don’t? Will I still be able to ….? Who pays? What will they think? How do I get there? What aren’t they telling me? Are they listening to me when I say I can’t or I won’t? I just can’t think right now! Oh, this sure sucks! Continue reading “Should I or Shouldn’t I? Managing Uncertainty”

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Decisions, decisions, decisions. We face endless numbers of decisions during our health journeys. From the mundane, should I fast to lose weight? To the tedious, what statin should I take? To the heartbreak, should we do everything possible? Yesterday, after playing music, someone told us that he fasted to lose 20 pounds. How many weight loss discussions have we had in an endless number of settings. I can remember one time discussing it with my Primary Care doctor – no decision, no choice of action – just an observation that my weight had been steadily increasing over the years. My cholesterol is high, and my Dad died young of a heart attack (not from high cholesterol). I’ve taken six different statins. My Primary Care doc thinks the evidence is strong for me to take statins. We regularly change brand based on effects on my liver enzymes, cost, and insurance coverage.  A friend’s elder mother had major heart surgery. The cardiac surgeon reported success, she’s doing great – the blockage was successfully removed. She’s still in a coma, intubated. She’s never had end-of-life conversations, no advanced directives. Her husband will want to do everything possible. No decisions lead to a decision. Continue reading “Decisions, Decisions, Decisions”

Health, Wellness, and Medical Decision Support, Wherever and with Whomever

When diagnosed wcdsith multiple sclerosis, I did little research. Here I was, a card carrying member of the research industrial complex heavily involved with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). I just couldn’t bring myself to Google MS.  I relied on my wife to do the research and inform me. I told my neurologist I wanted to get worse as slowly as possible and didn’t want to take anything that messed with my pathological optimism. Then I relied on him to make medical decisions for me.  No clinical decision aids. Simultaneously, friends sent me books and links about diet, lifestyle, over-the-counter supplements to help me with my MS. Thanks, I guess. Not that receptive.  Without looking up one study, I tried non-medical professionals – massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture. These I still use almost a decade later. I brought whatever I heard about or tried to my neurologist, and we discussed it. He told me that he knew about drugs and medical therapeutics, but that everything worked for someone. Some things he knew about and some he didn’t. He liked hearing what worked for me. He told me what he had heard from other patients.

When my mom was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer, she relied on me to do the research. Well, really, she asked me questions, so I had to do the research. In fact, she didn’t make any decisions based on the evidence I uncovered. “I’ve had a good life. No surgery, no chemo, no radiation. I want to stay home.” Continue reading “Health, Wellness, and Medical Decision Support, Wherever and with Whomever”

An Experiment of One

I was discharged after bypass surgery with 26 pages of instructions. I was just concerned about getting home.

My dad lives alone on the other coast. He takes 11 medications from 4 different providers. At least one gives him a blood thinner. What do I do if he bleeds?

I can get my acupuncturist and massage therapist to talk to each other, but not my doctor. They’re all helping me with my neuropathy pain.

My doctor tells me that if I get this surgery I’ll have a 10% chance of living longer and 1% chance of serious complications. What does that mean for me?

The doctor told my mom that she can’t drive anymore.  How will she get her groceries, her meds, to her doctor appointments?

Who will feed my cat if I have to go to the hospital?

I live 4 miles up a dirt road. Will I be able to stay in my house? 

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It’s complicated to manage health and wellness. Planning and living care is daunting. The journey occurs inside and outside of the medical space. Sometimes we travel alone and sometimes with our care partners and health team. Always within our communities. The journey is our life – one foot in  front of the other, with expected and unexpected, desired and undesired forks in the road. We can wing it or look for a map. We have evidence of what works – sort of and sometimes. The evidence is about specific routes for groups of people. You and I may be on an unusual route. You and I are not groups of people, we are one person in many groups.  Once a person decides or needs to feel better, a roadmap helps. A roadmap plus stopping periodically to check if you’re still heading to your destination. Continue reading “An Experiment of One”

Harmonic Convergence

Consider the fabric of best health. The Quadruple Aim (Best patient and clinician experience, best population health, reduced cost) is that fabric. The weave of that fabric is information about our personal and collective health and health journeys. The warp is learning and continual improvement.


Quadruple Aim: Improving the patient experience of care, improving the health of populations, reducing the per capita cost of health care, and improving the work life of clinicians and staff.


Health information includes the data in our health records (paper or electronic),  patient generated health data (PGHD) (vital signs, activity, experiences, symptoms, history, etc.), census and community data, and perceptions collected from surveys, focus groups, and chatter.  Learning can be formal and structured as in research and analysis, clinician consultation and advice, education and training, and tests of change as in Plan, Do, Study, Act  (PDSA) or informal as in social and traditional media, child rearing, personal experiments (try something, see how it works, try something else), family, neighborhood, and water-cooler conversations. Continue reading “Harmonic Convergence”

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.

Continue reading “Your Communities Need You!”

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 “AACH: Communication and Relationships”

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 “Clinical Practice Guidelines – Oh My Aching Brain”

Experiences, experiments, reflection, action

This week people told me stories about a moment in their health journey – Symptoms, people, relationships, procedures, thresholds, feelings.  Completely fascinating, inspiring, and gut wrenching windows into life’s challenges and tragedies. I heard,  I’m worried, the surgery worked, I can’t find a clinician who listens to me, my condition recurred – worse, my family’s supportive and grieving, how will I manage my job, I fell, my mother went into assisted living  (all from different people). Other people told me about work they’re doing – research, businesses, experiments.  I heard, let me tell you about the study I’ve been doing about multiple sclerosis, I’ve learned a lot about the stages that a person goes through as they gather information about chronic illness, I’m helping people succeed in their startup, I’ve found 5 people who have had the same success managing their chronic fatigue.  I read studies this week about reducing opioid use,  predicting resource use in chronic illness,  and improving the ability of individuals and clinicians to communicate and set mutual health goals.

Actually, this is a normal week. Experiences, experiments, reflection, action. All tie together. Each necessary, none sufficient.