A Seat at the Table. Now What?

Walking in the door, I look around me. Who are these people? What am I doing here? I’m not an academic. I’m don’t represent a national advocacy organization, a health system, or insurance company. I don’t work for pharma. I don’t represent an EHR vendor or software startup. I’m not a techie. I’m not, I’m not, I’m not. I’m just little Danny van Leeuwen. Yet, I’m finding myself sitting at several tables – research, data privacy and access, measurement, design, palliative care, behavioral health, policy – as a patient/caregiver scholar or stakeholder or activist. It’s been a heady, nerve-wracking, sober, and awkward process.

A core principle of my advocacy: People at the center of care (patients, direct care clinicians, and those that support them) need to sit at the tables of governance, design, operations, and learning in all aspects of healthcare research, delivery, and policy making.

Thank goodness I salivate standing in front of the complex Tower of Babel. In a weird way, I welcome the nonsensical business puzzle of sick care. Every tribe represented around the tables has a different language, all, apparently, in English. My first tasks are clarifying purpose and audience, inventory related efforts to-date, and figure out the one thing above all else that I want to accomplish at this table.  Whenever I don’t understand, I ask. What is an artifact? What do you mean by patient-centered? Who pays? Who cares? I propose definitions in my own words, words I think lay people might get. I tell my colleagues that I need to be able to write about it for you.

Next, I develop relationships and build trust. It’ll surprise you to know I’m an extrovert (Myers-Briggs ENFP if you go that way), so it’s natural for me to build relationships. The best way for me to build trust is to take on tasks and deliver on time.  And listen more than I talk. That’s work for me since I like the sound of my own voice. I prepare, do my homework, read everything provided in advance. Again, I bring one goal to accomplish in the upcoming meeting. When I feel small and intimidated, I think of the mouse, Jerry, of Tom and Jerry cartoons. (Does that date me?) I lean into the feeling of intimidation.

Broadly, I look for more opportunities to bring other people at the center of care to this and subsequent tables. I set my expectations low, so I can be delighted when they’re exceeded. We don’t have to hit it out of the park. I relish any humor and irony I stumble upon. It’s a fertile field. If I’m feeling crabby or hopeless (more than the normal anger at our sorry state of healthcare delivery), I back up and take a break. Play music, meditate, exercise, spend time with family, space out. Self-care first. If I feel disrespected, I’m out ‘a there.

Mostly, it’s fun, fun, fun. People care, people want things to be better, people want to accomplish something. People have hope. I hope we’re moving a battleship three degrees.  I know it needs to turn at least 45. Play the long game even if you’re a short-timer.

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

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Danny van Leeuwen

About Danny van Leeuwen

Patient/Caregiver activist empowering people as they travel toward best health

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