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Advocate

Power, Fear, Lack of Empathy

By | Advocate, Family man, Leader | 6 Comments

Photo of Ruth and Ruben van Leeuwen circa 1947

I was riding my trike this morning at 6:30. It was beautiful, dry, cool, few people out. My pathological optimism has escaped me.  I needed serenity following my recent MS infusion. I was hoping that I’d find clarity for the post I started yesterday about health data, health research, learning, and adjusting. I’m underwhelmed by our collective ability to learn and change based on experience and evidence. Where do I go with this germ of a post?

But no, I’m getting more and more agitated with every pedal. First, immigration and refugees. Then Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. I can’t shake it. No serenity, no nifty pearl for my post. Just escalating sickened outrage about power, fear, lack of empathy and its effect on our community well-being. Deep breaths, mindful meditation have no effect.

My parents, both Holocaust survivors, were not religious. But I heard Love thy neighbor as thyself often and I watched them live it.  My mom, when she finally began to speak about her experiences in hiding, emphasized her gratitude to the people who hid her at great risk to themselves. She would say, I wasn’t brave, they were.  I just survived. They were the heroes. The Trump administration is determined to wipe out immigration – both legal and illegal. It makes no sense to me. It flies in the face of decency, empathy, common sense, and evidence. Since this is a healthcare blog dedicated to empowering people as they travel toward best health, I’ll stick to that lens. Most people want to live the best life possible with their families, contributing something to their communities. This I believe. If they can’t be safe in the home, they want to move if they are able. If they can’t be safe in their countries, they want to emigrate. Even in the face of great risk. We in the US are fortunate.

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

So we do the work to assimilate! Is that so hard? It’s moral, ethical, empathetic, right. Practically, the fastest growing occupations in the US are home health aides, personal care assistants, medical assistants, software developers, nursing assistants, and registered nurses. All positions facing shortages.  All positions affecting our communities’ health. Who do we think is going to take care of us and develop tools that support our care as we age? Immigrants.

Second, Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination in the face of accusations of sexual assault. Again, outrage about power, fear, lack of empathy and its effect on our community well-being. Our Senate Judiciary consists of old white men without lived experience of assault and powerlessness (or they haven’t come out yet). Maybe the most powerful office in the country with a lifetime appointment affecting the wellbeing of all of us.

OK, other people can opine on these topics better than I can.

For me, the central feature is power – the imbalance of power. Those in power want to stay in power at all costs. I think it’s a human condition of the ages. Evidence, curiosity, empathy, have little role. We know that this imbalance of power is evident in our healthcare business practices and our healthcare decision-making. Fortunately, I still have a reservoir of pathological optimism. My parents lived through the Holocaust, the country survived the Vietnam experience. I believe that there are cycles of learning and relearning, and relearning again. I believe that the response to power imbalance is to get more people with lived experience and less power a seat at the table, especially the tables of governance.  For immigration and our government, our power is in the ballot box. Elect people with lived experience who grew up farther from power and wealth. Please vote and help your neighbor register to vote.  And I’ll get back to my advocacy to bring more people with lived experience to the tables of governance, design, operations, and learning in healthcare delivery, business, research, and technology.

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Patient Engagement – Careful What You Wish For

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Leader, Researcher | 2 Comments

I’m often asked about my take on patient engagement. These buzzwords are losing their meaning. Frankly, I find myself at a loss to answer, even though I say patient engagement is my passion. Engagement from whose point of view?

  • A person engaged in their own health – Isn’t everyone engaged in their own health? My symptoms affect me. I’m in pain. I can’t function as I’d like to. I’m sad. I’m anxious. I react. I manage or I don’t. I can accept, deny, adapt. I suffer, I advocate, I overcome. Maybe it’s my parent’s health or my partner’s or my child’s  It’s all engagement. I’m engaged in my own health. So maybe that’s not the question.
  • A clinician engaged in their patients’ health. My neurologist said he’s an expert in what works related to treatments and therapeutics for populations of people with Multiple Sclerosis, but he doesn’t know crap about me and my life. He wants to learn about what’s important to me and about my basic habits and circumstances – transportation, finances, culture, and spiritual values, family, hobbies, exercise, diet…. He’s engaged in my health. What if it’s not about his engagement with me?
  • A patient engaged by adhering to their clinicians’ prescriptions and medical plans. Certainly, a paternalistic and common view of engagement. I’m engaged when I follow all instructions whether I understand them, can afford them or can get to them. Wait, maybe it’s not about the patient-clinician relationship at all.
  • Patients engaged in governance, design, operations, and learning about medical care delivery, policy, research, technology, and business. People at the center of care (patients, direct care clinicians, and the people that support them) sitting at decision and learning tables like boards, advisory councils, departmental meetings, product design sessions, insurance company business meetings.

The challenge of giving a serious nod to patient engagement is that few of us are really prepared for success. Being super engaged in my own health means that I’m the CEO of my health team and that I manage myself and my subcontractors well. It means that I have a care partner that can step in when I can’t – a succession plan. It means that I do everything I can to operate at peak performance.  All while I’m sick or disabled:( The clinician engaged in their patients’ health means that they solicit and accept their patients’ expertise and they have the humility to accept how little expertise they have in non-drug, non-surgery treatment, or actually, much outside their specialty – like the reality of people’s day-to-day life challenges. Increasing patients’ engagement in governance, design, operations, and learning leads inevitably to pressure for transparent price lists before service, seamless transition from one setting or clinician to the next, on-demand self-scheduling, patient and clinician controlled health data sharing, access to and payment for non-drug, non-surgery treatments, funding research about outcomes that matter to people, and on and on.

I think we need to be more specific about what we mean by patient engagement. And be careful of what we wish for.

Photo by Fineas Gavre on Unsplash with text added by Health Hats

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May I Have Some – Time? Please

Advocacy Pearls

By | Advocate | No Comments

Someone asked me for my pearls of wisdom from my journey as a patient/caregiver activist. Pearls? Wisdom? Well, here goes:

  • Show up, listen, then speak up.
  • Do your homework – prep for calls and meetings.
  • Keep asking questions until you understand what the group, the research, the treatment, the service is trying to accomplish for whom. Then think, “So what? Why should we care? How does this affect us?”
  • The people around the table who don’t identify as patients or caregivers don’t know as much about life as you do.  They specialize in whatever. You specialize in the journey – in the impact of the policy, the technology, the service, the setting on real people.  You are as much of an expert as anyone else.
  • Open doors for more patient/caregiver experts. As expert as you are, you’re one voice.
  • Deliver on your commitments. Under commit, over deliver.
  • Build your network – Google or LinkedIn attendees and add them to your network/contact list.
  • Leverage your network – they understand asking for help.
  • Feed your network – support others as much as you’re able, whenever you’re able. You’ll learn something, create goodwill, and release endorphins.
  • If it feels like wasted time, it is. Vote with your feet. You only have so much gas in your tank.
  • Failure is precious. Learn from it.
  • Have a blast.

I’m only pretty good at this stuff. What are your pearls?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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Managing Pain – A Reality Check

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, Consumer, ePatient, Informaticist, Researcher | 3 Comments

Last month I asked for a reality check from my social networks on behalf of the Patient-Centered Clinical Decision Support (PCCDS) Learning Network about helping people use information better in managing pain:

Everyone makes decisions about managing pain sometime in their lives. Most people with chronic illness make repeated decisions about managing pain every day. Some people are fortunate to have strong relationships with trusted clinicians and care partners to share the decisions about managing pain. An alarming number of people have found themselves in a downward spiral of addiction to opioids first taken to manage their acute or chronic pain.

Many (more than 25) of you responded. You being People at the Center of Care (people with pain, medical and non-medical professionals advising and treating people with pain, and the people who support patients and professionals day-to-day.) Thank you for your insights. They make a difference. Here’s a summary, lightly edited, of what I heard.

Opioids and Pain

Most respondents couldn’t relate to opioid clinical decision support.  They could relate to pain management. Nobody said they preferred to take opioids. A few said that when their chronic pain was really bad, opioids were the only thing that worked. They were frustrated that they couldn’t get them anymore due to the heavy focus on opioid reduction.

  • When I have a sickle cell crisis, only opioids relieve my pain. I’ve had to remain in excruciating pain because they thought I was drug seeking.

Describing Pain

Describing pain is frustrating and limiting

  • The question frustrated me every time. I asked them to create a standard list to choose from addressing the quality, duration, intensity, location, etc. of the pain. That would have been so helpful. As you have learned to gain awareness to name and to know your pain, your mindful ability to stay with it, rather than run from it, I believe is part of the equation you seek to address. Aversion and fear of our experiences only add another layer of pain.
  • I have to manage my doctors’ abilities to hear about the pain. If I score too high I’m a complainer and they think nothing will work. If too low, then I’m not worth treating.

Pain Goals and Concerns

Managing pain occurs in the context of a life (determinants of health)

  • Discuss my pain goals and concerns with me, including financial & emotional goals and concerns. 
  • Care about my life and what I’m trying to accomplish. I need pain relief to be a parent, a worker, a partner, a contributor.
  • Chronic pain is expensive to manage when most health insurance benefit plans readily cover Rx, but only sometimes cover non-medication therapies. E.g. denial of physical therapy claims for on-going pain management relief. In an ideal scenario, health insurance would cover non-medication-centric pain management services as a matter of course, in parity with Rx coverage for the same condition.
  • Refer patients to integrated behavioral health support to address coping skills in recognition of the chronic pain and depression relationship.

Managing Pain

The bridge between evidence and personal expertise.

  • Managing pain is a continual experiment. Nothing works every time you’re in pain, including medication. You need several proven choices. 
  • I try to keep a journal of how I’m feeling, what I’m doing, and what works as I manage pain. It’s really hard to do when you’re in pain.
  • There are many therapeutic strategies that address the symptoms of physical pain and ways to interrupt the pain cycle and the experience of pain.  I wish I were an expert on the subject.  I know that there are some good answers available to people who struggle with chronic pain.   I believe that people need a combination of coaching and knowledge, as well as hands-on treatment, to benefit from these answers.

Doctors and Managing Pain

  • Doctors only know about drugs.  They can’t admit they don’t know about anything else that might work.
  • Doctors don’t have time for pain management. It can’t be done in occasional 20-minute visits.
  • Most of my questions about pain management occur when doctors aren’t available, like the middle of the night.
  • Technology is not a substitute for time and the relationship with my doctor.
  • I think we need to make the WHO pain ladder (cancer pain) one outcropping of a multimodal pain strategy but start with nonpharm, reorienting the meaning of pain, and subsidize multimodal pain plans before surgery and after injury.  As a pediatrician, pain researcher, inventor, innovator, and former procedural sedationist (I’ve pushed a LOT of fentanyl/propofol/ketamine), I’m much more interested in prevention and lowering the amount of opioids in circulation. 

Other Resources

  • We have an evidenced-based six-week peer-led pain self-management program that is widely used in the US, Canada and elsewhere. People can find locations near them by going to the Evidence-Based Leadership Council and clicking on the program locator on the upper right.
  • As part of The Pain Companion book launch, I’ve been on a number of excellent radio and TV shows recently talking about life with chronic pain and how we might find greater ease and well-being.
  • I recommend getting in touch with the British Pain Society. They are the organization that supports British Pain Clinics.  The Pain Clinics in the UK have embraced some of the complementary and alternative remedies that are quite helpful with pain management.   It is part of their standard protocol and clinic staff work with patients to implement these treatments.  

Suggestions and Questions

  • We should compensate doctors better for pain management discussions.
  • Why don’t we use palliative care specialists when patients have chronic pain? Palliative care is not just for the dying.
  • Pay post-op patients $200 to spend on a Pain Plan approved intervention if they don’t fill an opioid prescription. 
  • Give a list of evidence-based non-pharm options to every pre-op patient, and with every new opioid script.
  • Isn’t there a start-up in compiling non-medication pain management resources by zip code?
  • Why don’t we do more research about non-medication options for relieving pain?

Wow. Responses are still rolling in. Thanks to everyone. I am compiling these into a resource center that will include a pain management section. This is just the beginning of the conversation.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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National Action Plan to Better Manage Pain

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Informaticist, Researcher | One Comment

Everyone makes decisions about managing pain sometime in their lives. Most people with chronic illness make repeated decisions about managing pain every day. Some people are fortunate to have strong relationships with trusted clinicians or care partners to share the decisions about managing pain. An alarming number of people have found themselves in a downward spiral of addiction to opioids first taken to manage their acute or chronic pain.

Greetings fellow patient/caregiver activists and advocates! I need your help to be successful in some work I’m doing to help people use information better in managing pain. This post takes two minutes to read. A couple of links might take 7 minutes to read. Thinking and responding…. If you can, please take the time. I’m part of this team and I have my own experience with pain management and decision-making. We need a wider reality check. That’s you. Thanks for all you do. Read More

Money Back Guarantee: Value Proposition

By | Advocate, Consumer, Researcher | One Comment

XYZ Hospital – Money back guarantee

Acme Specialty Services – On-time appts or we pay you

We Wish Think Tank – Research for patients

People’s Pharma – Medications you can afford

I love value propositions: vague, aspirational, ethics remote.  Think: Uber – The smartest way to get around; Apple iPhone – The Experience IS the Product; Walmart – Everyday low prices; Google – Search Engine for the World

This month  I heard the term value proposition in two meetings I attended: A CMS Technical Expert Panel about the value-based measurement system and an iHope Study meeting (Improving Hospital Outcomes through Patient Engagement). It came up as, What is the Value Proposition for researchers, measure developers, and healthcare executives for patient participation? This seemed important to me. If we advocates are trying to sell the idea that patients and caregivers should be at the table for policy making, research, measure development, healthcare delivery don’t we need a clear value proposition?

What is a value proposition? A marketing term? Value proposition refers to a business or marketing statement that a company uses to summarize why a consumer should buy a product or use a service. This statement convinces a potential consumer that one particular product or service will add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings will. Companies use this statement to target customers who will benefit most from using the company’s products. Read more here.

I certainly can find resources for healthcare executives creating a value proposition to market to patients, such as The Five Key Elements to a Hospital’s Value Proposition. But let’s say that our audience is researchers, measure developers, or healthcare executives.  What, then, is the value statement for patient participation in governance, design, operations, and learning? I called my friend and go-to brain, Mighty Casey Quinlan. As usual, she expanded my mind. She suggested that Value Propositions assume a relationship between equal partners. Equal partnerships in healthcare (between clinicians and patients) seems to be my life work. But, as Casey explained the business of health care is anything but equal.  Although most money in healthcare in the US comes from sick or well individuals’ taxes, wages, earnings, or savings we have the collective perception that it comes from insurers, employers, governments. This creates a cliff size imbalance in the relationship. It could be similar to building a house. Most of us don’t have the skills, time, or resources to build a house ourselves.  We hire a contractor to manage and coordinate the skilled people who purchase and assemble materials that end up a house.  We pay for the house.  There’s an equal partnership. Our money, their work. Could be, but isn’t. Not if we don’t accept that it’s our money. No equal relationship, really no relationship at all.

So what’s our value proposition for investing our wages, taxes, savings, and earnings in our healthcare system?  I’m having trouble getting my brain around this. Any ideas?

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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Patient Ownership of Data?

By | Advocate, ePatient, Informaticist | 6 Comments

Do you care about health data ownership and want to stay abreast of national initiatives to wrestle with and solve ownership issues? If so, this post is for you.

What does it mean to own my health data? Is it like owning my car or my house? Is it like a copyright? Do I own it by myself or do I share ownership with the people or systems that enter the data (my doctor, the lab, my care partner) or store the data (the electronic health record, the app, the device)? Is it ownership or is it a right, like a civil right? I confess that I know this is important, even critical, but the more I explore, the less I feel like I understand.

Much to my surprise, I was invited to attend a National Academy of Medicine (NAM) Digital Learning Collaborative meeting about Patient Ownership of Data. Participants included stakeholders from EHR vendors, government agencies, hospital and medical practices, insurance companies, patients (I was one of several), and others. See a summary here. The meeting sought to explore several questions (paraphrased by me): Read More

The Culture of Participatory Research

By | Advocate, Researcher | No Comments

My recurring mind loop these days is non-traditional patient, non-traditional patient, non-traditional patient. I heard it repeatedly while attended a one-day symposium, Putting Patients at the Center of Research: Opportunities for Ethical and Regulatory Oversight at

Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center. See a great report written by Andy Oram about the symposium here. The symposium showcased a PCORI (Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute)-funded study about patient involvement in research in non-traditional roles (not the subject*). The study actually focused almost exclusively on Institutional Review Board (IRB) perceptions of patients in non-subject roles. Interesting focus since the role of the IRB is to protect patient rights in research studies as subjects, not other roles.

*Please note: Subject is a loaded word for some. They say participant rather than subject, a more egalitarian term. I’m sticking with using subject because I’m introducing the label of Participatory Research. I don’t want to confuse the issues.

No one’s ever accused me of being a traditional patient and I’m not defensive. Right:) You know I’m heavily involved with PCORI whose reason for being is to fund research that matters to patients and will benefit patients. It’s odd that a PCORI-sponsored study would label anything a person does who is not an academic and not a subject of a research study as non-traditional. The roles the study refers to as non-traditional are membership in the research team as an investigator, advisor, consultant, recruiter, or disseminator. It seems that the study started with a bias when they called other roles, nontraditional, rather than, say, non-subject roles. It didn’t call researchers who include patients in non-subject roles, non-traditional researchers.

My patient/caregiver activism rests on a foundation that patients and caregivers should have a seat at the table for governance, design, operations, and learning of healthcare policy, planning, delivery, improvement, and research. It makes sense that much of the research industry feels like a fish out of water with patients in their midst. Perhaps labeling (non-traditional) is a reflection of their acute discomfort with other. We call people of the Navaho nation whose ancestors lived in the continental US before the Puritans, American Indians. We call people who emigrated from China during the California Gold Rush, Chinese Americans. Yet, I’m white, first-generation American. I’m not called Dutch/German American, just American. Perhaps when many researchers think patient, they think someone wearing a hospital gown with their butt crack bare, not skilled, insightful, hardworking, curious, passionate people like themselves. Other.

As a reviewer of PCORI funding requests and co-chair of an Advisory Panel, I’m fortunate to be part of a leading edge of culture change in the human research industry: Participatory Research. I have seen research teams with patient/caregiver stakeholder Investigators and Advisors paid on equal footing as the academics. I’ve even seen respite care budgeted for carees of caregivers, so they could free themselves to participate in any role. Culture change seldom occurs by waving a magic wand. Rather it moves in fits and starts as the bulk of researchers follow Participatory Research early adopters. Early adopters see participatory research as a no-brainer. Those that follow feel like they’re putting round pegs in square holes. They question the capacity, skill, and confidentiality of lay people in research team roles. They think patients need to be protected, that they need to become more research literate. A great research team has members with statistics and methods expertise, recruitment expertise, project management expertise. Often with less experience with patient/caregiver life flow and direct care clinician workflow. They seldom require life experience training or statistical training for those without such experience. However, everyone, no matter the role, needs to have documented understanding of the rights of subjects and confidentiality of individual data.

I appreciated the presentations at the symposium of three patients (Jane Permuller, Marty Carney, and Paul McLean) in non-subject roles highlighting the benefits of patient participation in research. I also respect Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for scratching the surface and reminding us (me) that the spread of participatory research is in its infancy and we activists have much work to do.

2+2=what?

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient | No Comments

Alice’s blood pressure is 110/50 right now. That’s a data point. Her blood pressure, untreated, lives around 150/90. She’s prescribed medicine for it, but she ran out last week and doesn’t get paid for a few more days. When she stands up, she gets sweaty and feels like she might pass out.  That’s a bunch of data and a story. Hopefully, the data and the story are given meaning (processed, analyzed, interpreted) by someone with Alice who has medical experience and skills and leads to information about her safety. Alice might have orthostatic hypotension. She probably should sit down, for now, refill her prescription, and get some medical help.

So, the 110/50 (a single data point) doesn’t mean much by itself. Multiple data points + stories, when processed, can lead to information.  Information leads to choices which can result in action. Data and stories about Alice are collected by her, others, and machines. She might be able to interpret data. So can others and machines. Most action taken as a result of information about Alice is done by Alice. She can’t write a prescription, but she can take it. She can sit down and elevate her feet. She can seek medical treatment.

Some people and their clinicians are drowning in data and can’t breathe, let alone learn from that data. My OpenNotes record from my neurologist is full of data. Unfortunately, even as a nurse, I understand very little of the note. I want some simple information from the note. How am I doing? I have a progressive disease that will get worse. Am I getting worse? Five pages of data in a note and I can’t tell.  I asked my neurologist to explain it to me.  He did. Took about three minutes. Turns out the Expanded Disability Status Scale buried on page 4 was the key. I have moved from 5.0 to 5.5 on the scale in the last two years. He used it to support my claim for disability payments.  But wait, that’s not right, I can’t walk 100m without my cane.  Oh, he says, then you’re a 6.0. Worse than he thought, but now we know. That was an example of missing information (for me) and erroneous information (for him). Let’s not forget biased information. That’s a subject for another day.

The person-clinician relationship feeds on a  two-way loop of data, stories, and action about the person receiving care and support. The art for my clinician team members is to help find, share, and interpret data about me and about groups of people like me (old, affluent, white men with Multiple Sclerosis, high cholesterol, food on the table, who have insurance, a home and family), combine them with stories about me, to help me make sense of it all. So I can do something with the information that makes sense to both of us.

So, I still want my DaM Data (Data about Me). But it’s no good without transmogrification (great word!) into information that I can use.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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Help Me Be Patient-Centered

By | Advocate, ePatient | No Comments

 

Everywhere I go it’s patient-centered this and patient-centered that. What does it even mean? It doesn’t take long for buzzwords to wear thin (patient engagement, silos, gig economy, NexGen). Don’t me wrong.  I wholeheartedly support Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and the Patient-Centered Clinical Decision Support-Learning Network. I subscribe to  Picker’s Eight Principles of Patient-Centered Care.

I also endorse the IOM (Institute of Medicine) patient-centered definition “Providing care that is respectful of, and responsive to, individual patient preferences, needs and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.”

Once something becomes part of popular jargon and media I can’t help but re-evaluate what I mean and what others mean. When I’m invited to sit at a governance, design, operations or learning table I ask, What do you mean by patient-centered?  Invariably, people assume what others mean and actually have different definitions (or often, none at all). The most common definition people say is, patients are in  the middle of everything. Well, they’re not. I can’t even picture the design challenges of patients in the center of everything. I am in the middle of everything for me. That’s complicated enough. I’m learning that being self-centered means taking care of myself and standing up for myself. I’m responsible for doing the work to understand and communicate my preferences, needs, and values. I’m responsible for respecting myself. I’m pretty good at that, but I could be better. I need my whole team to understand their preferences, needs, and values, respect themselves and take care of themselves. I need them to keep up with the skills and knowledge of their specialty or role. Stronger team members make for better collaborators with more respect overall. I’m going to have better health in the long run when clinicians  stand up for themselves and struggle with the oppressive business of health care. I’m better off when they are less burned out and have more time for me and themselves. I’m better off if they’re self-centered and take care of their jobs – knowing and communicating choices to me. Read More