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Leader

Pain Management Choices: One Person’s Point-of-View

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Informaticist, Leader, Researcher | No Comments

Pain and choices mix, but not too well. A sudden new pain requires professional attention and a pill – I gotta get over this. With severe chronic pain, I pray for some choices that I know might work. I want choices to prevent the pain – a routine. When the pain breaks through I want at least four things I can try. First non-drug that I can do myself (like heat, cold, vibration, meditation), then non-drug help from others, (say, massage, chiropractic), then less side effect drugs (Tylenol, cannabis…).  Finally, pocket therapy – something I’d rather not take, but it’s good to have in my pocket, just in case. So, that’s me in particular circumstances.

Almost everyone with chronic illness experiences chronic pain. Chronic pain in the US costs more than $600 billion annually in health care costs and lost worker productivity. I attended and presented at the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ)-supported Patient-Centered Clinical Decision Support (PCCDS) Learning Network annual meeting (phew, a mouthful!) focused on decision-making in pain management and reducing opioid use. My job was to keep it real.

Please find the audio and slide deck here on my YouTube channel. It’s 44 minutes long with the Q&A portion. Here you can find my web resource page with other pain management resources. It’s a work in progress and will grow over time. Feel free to use any or all of it. I operate under Creative Commons. That means: please give me credit (attribution by Danny van Leeuwen/Health Hats). You can stop reading here or read a brief summary of the talk below. Read More

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

Expanding Engagement and Capabilities of People at the Center

Engage! Will patient engagement achieve “warp speed” this year?

May I Have Some – Time? Please

You say you want a revolution

By | Advocate, Leader | No Comments

Yesterday, I was listening to Casey Quinlan’s podcast, Healthcare is Hilarious: an interview with Victor Montori who wrote Why We Revolt-The Patient Revolution for Careful and Kind Care.  I haven’t read his book yet, but I will. The interview on Healthcare is Hilarious is stellar.

Merriam-Webster says a revolution is:

  • a sudden, radical, or complete change
  • activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation
  • a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm * the Copernican revolution
  • a changeover in use or preference especially in technology *the computer revolution *the foreign car revolution

One of the things that Victor said was that reformers are important, but healthcare is not designed for health and wellness, care and kindness. The entrenched forces will not fundamentally change with reform. It needs a revolution, a patient revolution. I’ve never been good at putting other people’s labels on myself – I don’t know if I’m a reformer or a revolutionary. During my professional and now activist career, I’ve seen myself as a catalyst for change – sustainable change that continues when you’re gone.

My revolutionary heroes include: Mary Wollstonecraft (sparked the change to allow women to have the right to full participation in society), Mahatma Gandhi (the power of nonviolence and forgiveness), Oliver Cromwell (translating the Bible into English so lay people could read it), Florence Nightingale (invented nursing and used statistical analysis to improve care), Albert Einstein (the theory of relativity changed how we think of time and space), and Rachel Carson (sparked the global environmental movement).

The relatively recent revolutions in healthcare that stand out to me include the discovery of anesthesia, legislation for Medicare, Medicaid, the Consumer Protection Bureau, Patient-Centered Research, and universal voting rights for citizens over the age of 18. Add value-based payment, elevators,  asynchronous communication,  palliative care, anti-viral medications, precision medicine, synthetic opioids, desalinization of water, mass-produced solar power, worldwide transportation (of people, food, products, and pests), smoking restrictions.

With some revolutions, there’s no going back. Anesthesia isn’t going away.  Neither are elevators. Every revolution has unintended consequences affecting some people badly, even lethally. Anesthesia can cause harm. So can elevators, asynchronous communication, and synthetic opioids. Legislation can be undermined or rescinded. Almost anything can be co-opted and diluted. Most revolutions are never-ending projects requiring constant vigilance and advocacy.

In my narrow world frame, I look for the magic levers of best health.  What small things make an outsized difference?  Obviously, drink clean water, eat just enough, don’t smoke, get plenty of rest, do meaningful work are magic levers. Maybe the revolutions are magic levers, too.

The revolutions that I’ve hitched to are:

  • People at the center of care sitting at the tables of governance, design, operations, and learning for research, policy, payment, technology, and care delivery.
  • Individual ownership (access to, contribution to, authorization for, and payment for) their own health data.
  • People and relationships at the center of care making decisions together for best health.
  • Healthcare as a right with universal access.

Note: people at the center of care are patients, direct care clinicians, and the people that support them.

I like to try to predict future revolutions, although my track record of predictions is terrible (I was never going to get married or have kids. I was going to keep my last real job until I was 70 and then I’d retire). The thing about revolutions is that they’re crazy difficult to predict and harder to consciously engineer. I’m old now. I don’t want to run anything anymore. I’m happy to follow revolutionary leaders who are charismatic, kind, caring, and persistent.  I can be a thought leader, a writer, and a solid team member. So, I am not the revolutionary.

Viva la revolution!

Photo by Sadık Kuzu on Unsplash

Failure is Under-Rated

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

I’ve told my teams over the years, if we don’t fail several times a week we’re not pushing the envelope and not doing our jobs. We weren’t tightrope walkers, pushing IV meds, or manufacturing artificial joints. We were innovators, learners, and leaders. Failure as a virtue is a hard sell – to almost anyone. My teams, my colleagues in leadership, editorial review boards always start by thinking I’m crazy.  Sometimes they eventually get it, sometimes not. Leadership usually wants to get A’s. In one health system I worked for, I reported that we successfully completed medication reconciliation in 40% of admissions. OMG, that’s awful! They said.  No, I said, that’s great! We’re failing. Let’s succeed. In 18 months we completed medication reconciliation 70% of the time.  It’s a lot harder to go from 70% to 80% than 40% to 70%. In research, we don’t publish when the study doesn’t prove the hypothesis. Yet, not proving is as important, if not more important, than proving. I was on an Editorial Review Board once that decided to solicit articles where the hypothesis wasn’t proven and something was learned. Over a 10-year span, we solicited exactly 0 such articles. Zero!

A definition of failure to some is the opposite of success. Not necessarily. Especially when it comes to learning and getting healthier. We don’t tell kids they fail when they fall learning to walk. They keep trying.  Same with learning to talk. As an adult, I find failure a motivator to try again.  As a thinker and a catalyst for change, I’m delighted when I succeed with 30% of what I try. It’s been the rare boss that’s accepted that. They’ve been the best bosses and we’ve done the best work together in my career.

For health, embrace failure. I did eye exercises twice a day for 8 months before my brain rewired and my crippling double vision cleared 80%. That’s 360 failures and one success! It’s taken years of trial and error to land on a balance, stretching, and strengthening routine that works for me. I stumble a lot, fall infrequently, and sustain only minor injuries when I do. I get frustrated when I see failure and stuck in the muck. Fail and try something else, that’s the ticket.

Failure flavors humility and empathy.  My best stories are of failure – my failures. People laugh with me.  We can all relate to failure. It’s the warp of our lives. Hearing about a failure, we naturally ask, and then? What happened next?  What did you learn? What did you try? What eventually worked?

So, failure, persistence, and humor are inseparable cronies. Keep trying and chuckle at the absurdity. That‘s life, health, music – anything worth doing well.  Persist and laugh. Eventually, who knows?

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

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Health Hats: Reflecting on 2017

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, Leader, Researcher | No Comments

Since I stopped being an employee or a boss two years ago I’ve written annual reports for myself. I had written ones for my boss and staff for 25 years straight. I thought I’d keep it up now that I’m retired from that. Helps me be sure that my work serves my mission. With so much to do in this sick, sickness industry, it’s easy to feel disappointed and burned out. Fortunately, I’ve made a career of beating low expectations – starting with something truly disappointing and finding the small thing that can have an outsized impact by moving that something a lasting inch. I call them levers for best health. I’ve found that drinking water has the most outsized impact for best health. Anyway, the annual report helps me keep a pulse on the balance between impactful work and stoking my fires while managing my health and having fun. It’s an inspiring strange ride. Thanks for being on the ride with me. I couldn’t do it without the personal inspiration of my immediate family (Ann, Simon, Ruben, Jessica, Kate, Anica, Jacky, Leon, and Oscar) and my friends (Mary Sue, Sue, Michael, Kathy, Fatima, Regina, John, Geri, MaryAnne, and Pat). Read More

A Fish Out of Water

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

When I went to an inner city Nursing School in 1975, I was a 19-year old hippie white boy from the suburbs in a class of 150 mostly mid-aged African American women (one other guy).  I felt like a fish out of water. When you’re admitted to the hospital you’re wearing a johnnie, pushing a button for help, and feeling like crap you’re surrounded by streams of people in uniforms who know each other and work together every day. A fish out of water. As a patient stakeholder/expert on a panel, I’m surrounded by scientists, physicians, administrators.  A fish out of water.

Interesting idiom, fish out of water. I picture a fish flapping, breathless, on the deck of a boat or in a pail, ready to die. But really that’s way too drastic. It’s more, oh crap, what am I doing here? I don’t belong. I feel so small. I’m an extrovert (or ENFP for you Myers Briggs folk), so I wriggle out of that fish out of water feeling pretty quickly. Ever since my hippie drug days, I learned to bring safety with me whenever I did anything risky. My intro to Participatory Medicine was Take this Book to the Hospital with You by Charles Inlander and Ed Weiner. Create your own pond in the middle of dry dock in the fish out of water idiom. In Nursing School I set up a study group and held them at my classmates’ homes.  I knew how to study and they knew how to cook. As a direct care nurse, I encouraged people to have a family member with them at all times. I build relationships with people on panels and soon I have a pond.

It’s harder when you’re not an extrovert.  It takes pre-thought, planning, and encouragement from others. When I watch introverts manage successfully they know who they are, have confidence, and are clear that it’s their needs that should be met. And they take someone to the hospital with them.

What do you do when you’re a fish out of water?

Post Image from Public Domain Pictures

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Communication at Transitions

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Leader | One Comment

The Journal of Participatory Medicine recently published an article I authored, Communication at Transitions: One Audacious Bite at a Time. During my 40+ years as a nurse, 30+ years as a caregiver, and many years with a chronic illness, I can think of nothing more common than transitions: hand-offs between team members occur many times a day and moving between settings (e.g., home to clinic, hospital to home) occur many times a year for anyone who’s sick. How can it be that our health system is so bad at transitions? It’s as if Mass Transit couldn’t manage transfers from bus to subway, airlines couldn’t transfer bags from one airline to another, or banks couldn’t transfer money from my bank to a store or my employer to my bank. Without transfers mass transit, airlines, banks couldn’t exist. I wrote this article with incredulous frustration. Here’s an overview of the article. Please read the article and let me know your thoughts. How can solving this communication issue become essential for the healthcare community?

The Journey

To be audacious and take significant steps toward achieving the 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), we patients and caregivers need to better understand key features of our health journeys. When on that health journey, we are patients interacting with a series of care teams: our home team (social network), our community agency teams, our emergency care team, our hospital teams, and on and on. These care teams include ourselves, our caregivers, clinicians, other professionals, and direct care and support staff—people at the center of care. The actions taken by people at the center of care to improve, maintain, or adapt to our health or illness represents our health care. Actions can be diagnostic, taking medications, undergoing procedures, learning, living life and getting help living life. So, our health journey is teams of people at the center of care taking such actions to provide healthcare and service to us.

Transitions – What a Mess

During this journey, we transition from one setting to another, from one team to another, repeatedly. Communication knits this maze of actions, interactions, and transitions together. At its core communication is two or more people or parties sharing some information via some channel (voice, paper, digital, dramatic), one time or several times in a particular setting, hoping to accomplish something that moves us along in our health journey. One of the most persistent and ubiquitous frustrations in health care is that of poor communication. Poor communication at transitions is at the root of much overuse, underuse, and misuse of health resources, and results in the inability of patients to complete recommended treatment. For the patient and their family this means unnecessary delays in returning to health or worse. For those professionals on the care team the incidents of harm, burnout, stress, and frustration cause financial, emotional and career-ending consequences. Poor communication at transitions impacts each of the Quadruple Aims. Read More

CEO of My Health Team

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Family man, Leader, Researcher | One Comment

I am the CEO (Chief Executive Officer, the boss) of my health team with a ton of subcontractors: my primary care doc and her practice, my neurologist and his practice, the radiology department at my local hospital, the neighborhood pharmacy, the utility companies… You get the idea. They get paid through my employment benefits, your and my taxes, and out of my pocket. Right now I directly employ my massage therapist and acupuncturist – fee-for-service. I also have pro bono team members: my wife (my care partner), my family, friends, and advisors.

As CEO of my health team, I try to lead and manage. Leading is building and fostering relationships, finding service providers as needed, setting health goals, coming up with a plan to meet my goals, and learning from our mistakes (what doesn’t work).  As a leader I find ways to share information among the team, and, of course, I fundraise and cheerlead. Leading is also about succession planning.  Who will lead when I can’t? Managing, on the other hand, is negotiating service agreements (contracts), actually seeing that the tasks in the plan happen as desired, maintaining the team and it’s connections, and trying to fix what isn’t working. It’s a tough system to lead and manage. It’s exhausting. I have some of the skills I need, but nowhere near all. There’s very little training for Health Team CEOs- no certificate or degree. The pay stinks. There’s no vacation. I can’t resign. Read More

CMS Quality Measures for People

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Informaticist, Leader, Researcher | 6 Comments

Payment for medical services is shifting from paying for volume (more visits, tests, visits, days = more money) to paying for value (quality of care). Makes sense. But what does value and quality of care mean? It means that physicians get paid an incentive (more money) for certain results (outcomes, process, actions). An example is readmission rates. If a physician’s patients are readmitted to a hospital after discharge more than most physicians, they don’t get the extra payment. There are roughly 1,000 of such quality measures. These quality measures are very important to us – people at the center of care (patients, caregivers, parents, direct care clinicians and staff) – because measurement strongly influences people and organizations who get paid for medical services. Following the money doesn’t necessarily mean better medical care, better health for us, better relationships among our healthcare teams, or better work life for our health professional partners.

I was nominated to sit on a CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services)/Battelle Quality Measurement Development Technical Advisory Panel (TEP). The TEP had its first meeting in Baltimore last week. I was one of 19 Panel members (and one of two with expertise in all four of the selection criteria -Consumer Perspective, Clinical Content, Performance Measurement, Coding and Informatics).  The TEP seeks to improve the process of developing measures. It isn’t trying to develop measures. The good news is that the TEP gelled as a team and the CMS/Battelle leaders seem open to, if not eager for, actionable advice. I am honored to have been asked to sit at this table.

As a Patient Activist and a change catalyst, I appreciate the formidable forces of inertia and the current business realities of the medical care industrial complex. What can little Danny van Leeuwen hope to accomplish? My goal in accepting this appointment is to find one lever that can move the Value-Based Measurement battleship three degrees toward value to people at the center of care. My superpower is to accept what is and go from there. After listening to my esteemed TEP colleagues, my perception of what is is:

  1. Measures serve to evaluate the performance of individual practitioners (not measure whether patients attain optimal health or how the team is functioning),
  2. Inertia is heading to further measure specificity by specialty and diagnosis (not toward the patient with more non-medical than medical determinants of health who is more than a sum of their diagnoses),
  3. Data for measurement exists primarily in claims, diagnostic systems, and Electronic Medical Records (much less patient-generated data and experience/perceptions of people at the center of care),
  4. Physicians bristle at the idea of being held accountable for anything they deem out of their control (rather than what can I do to contribute to improving whatever?),
  5. People at the center of care, insurers, and policymakers all feel ill at ease with uncertainty,
  6. Few, if any, incentives exist for data vendors to integrate their data (So patients, caregivers, and parents using the most health care dollars provide the bulk of communication at transitions in care, if they can do it at all),
  7. Testing measures in real-life seems to be an almost insurmountable challenge (so the link between measures and what they seek to measure and the link between measurement and value to patients is tenuous),
  8. Direct care clinicians are stressed and burning out – the proportion of time they spent documenting rather than caring is growing while they feel pressure to increase productivity (rather than technology helping to reverse those trends),

Jeesh. Houston, we have a problem. Read More