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Lessons Learned as a Patient-Caregiver Activist

By | Advocate | 3 Comments

Photo by Monica Melton on Unsplash

Patient-caregiver activism spans my 40+ year career and my many hats. As the first male public health nurse in Western Massachusetts in 1976, I established a walking route in inner-city Holyoke with the Holyoke Visiting Nurses Association.  I strove to immerse myself in the community of people I supported. This more profound understanding of their physical environment and social circumstances help me help them manage their chronic illness – diabetes, heart failure, spinal cord trauma, and strokes. As an Intensive Care Unit nurse manager in the 80’s I introduced open visiting hours for families. Up to this point visiting hours were from 1-2 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. Nursing staff felt that family would be in the way.  So, on the one hand, my nursing staff would say with pride, we are patient advocates, and then limit family access to their loved ones. Made no sense to me. Working as Director of Quality Management in behavioral health managed care in the early 90’s, I was able to form clinician and patient advisory councils to inform us on the effects of our policies and practices on clinician and member lives.   When my son, Mike, was recovering from brain and then lung surgery from metastatic melanoma, we realized as a family that recovery depended on us with little support from the hospitals or medical community. I still had never heard of patient-centered or patient engagement.

Now, I am retired – no longer an employee or a boss – and immersed in writing, speaking, and consulting as a patient-caregiver activist. I collaborate with clinicians, researchers, academics, policy makers, caregivers, entrepreneurs, designers, programmers, administrators. I have the opportunity now to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned about the craft of patient-caregiver activism as a catalyst for change. Let me share some of those lessons:

Activism includes a set of skills and attitudes

  • Know my audience(s). Absorb like a sponge, introduce them to each other, and be a guest in their house(s).
  • Clarify language. Use as plain language as possible. Learn my audiences’ language. Delight in the Tower of Babel puzzle.
  • Build team relationships and hold up my end of the bargain. Maximize trust.
  • Find the story that opens minds and hearts to science and mission – people have different brains and respond to  information differently
  • Find seats at the table for the customers: patients, caregivers, and direct care clinicians.
  • Be clear about how I’ll recognize success in my work and the team’s.
  • Take three deep breaths often and keep at it. Relax and persist.
  • Don’t be afraid to blow the whistle for ethics. If I don’t speak up, who will?
  • Go for big gains and value the small ones. Celebrate often.
  • My family and self-care first.
  • Practice humor, humility, and listening.
  • Mentor as I’ve been mentored.
  • Appreciate that it’s all an experiment.  There is yet another way.

What lessons have you learned? Scroll down to bottom of the page to share.

 

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Reading the Room and Yourself

By | Advocate, Caregiver | No Comments

Sometimes I feel like I’m part of someone else’s play. Just dropped in. I don’t know my lines, I don’t know the other characters. I think I’m in a drama, yet it feels like a farce. The stage is ever changing. Have you seen those round, rotating stages where the props keep changing? I think I’m playing myself, but I’m not quite sure. On top of it, I feel like crap, I’m exhausted, I’m cranky. I exit, stage right, left, whichever. What just happened? What do I do now? Oh yes, time to live life again.

When I worked at Boston Children’s Hospital, I took a class from the Big Apple Circus clowns. These are people who go from room to room visiting kids and their parents or go to scary procedures with them and help them feel better for a couple of minutes. The class was on reading the room. Sizing up the characters, the dynamic, the vibe in the room and then selecting a path forward. The kid is hurt, angry, and withdrawn. There’s tension between the hovering adults. What can you do? In seconds they insert themselves, do something odd or funny, draw out the child, and break the tension. 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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#WordsDoMatter for Action

By | Advocate, Caregiver, ePatient | No Comments

Language has a magical influence on the lives we lead, with an impact on our thoughts, emotions, and/or actions. The words we use are one of the most potent ingredients in the science of language. Words have the power to heal, guide and motivate. They can confuse, mislead, and even hurt us. The intent of a spoken word can often be misinterpreted leading to an unintended consequence. The majority of our words are a result of habit and convenience. If we follow the ripple effect of our words to understand the emotions and/or behaviors they might potentially trigger, would it force us to pause, think and perhaps communicate differently? See Sarah Krug’s post on the Society of Participatory Medicine blog, The Power of Words in Healthcare: A Patient-Friendly Lexicon. Top 10 List #WordsDoMatter Project.

Sarah offers 10 words she vows not to use with patients and their families in 2018!

  1. Patient Engagement
  2. Patient Journey
  3. Patient Centric
  4. Co-Create
  5. Compliance/Adherence
  6. Survivor
  7. Fight
  8. Caregiver
  9. Shared Decision-Making
  10. Negative

Language does have magical influence. I appreciate Sarah’s post. Let’s pause and break this down. Some of these ten words are names, labels, such as survivor and caregiver. While these aren’t slurs nor do they denote disrespect, they aren’t in and of themselves that descriptive without the story behind them. A person is always more than a label. Actually, I don’t like other people to label me. I’ve been labeled heterosexual, white, retired, disabled, male nurse, patient, caregiver, etc.  Some labels I own, some labels feel limiting to me.  When I’m with other people who share a label I may either feel solidarity or feel my uniqueness. Usually, I spend little time on the label. I’d rather hear stories, share experiences, what worked and what didn’t with the people with whom I’m sharing a label. When people write and use labels about me, I can’t help but think of exceptions. I am not the typical caregiver, male nurse, retired person.  I guess.

Compliance, adherence, patient-centric, and shared decision-making have a power component. Who’s up, who’s down? As a patient activist, I would rather use Informed Decision-making or Health Care Choices than Shared Decision-making. But depending on the setting and my goals in the interaction,  I may point out the implications of the word choices or I may not. In any communication, I can choose to focus on the words used and do some education. I could listen and try to understand what the person means by the words being used. If I feel the words are offensive, I could speak up, be silent, or leave the room. Up to me.

Words have history. Patient engagement was once a revolutionary new concept. Now it’s lost its meaning or it could mean so many different things. I’d rather engage in my care, negotiate engagement, or find a common meaning with the people I’m in the room with. I think there could be other words used. However, those new words will inevitably become diluted as well.  I use journey a lot. I get so frustrated with the episodic view of health care: the visit, the hospital stay, the diagnosis. I prefer the journey, the adventure, the extended time, people, settings and the idea of a destination or goal. But I don’t care what words other people use, as long as it’s not based on diagnosis and episode.  I’ll keep using journey.

Words are important.  Especially if they’re offensive or as dilute as water. But they are also opportunities for sharing, learning, advocacy. I feel very strongly that refining words used is only step one in activism. More important to me is best health and quality of life; equity; personal, spiritual, food, and financial safety; respect; and community. And what do these words even mean? We listen, talk, and do. Hopefully, communication leads to action – action that we desire. The patient-friendly lexicon will always be dynamic.  Participatory Medicine is part of today’s lexicon.  I’d welcome the day when it gets added to the list as outdated and dilute.

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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

Making a difference as circumstances change

By | Advocate, Caregiver | No Comments

I love hearing, That’s a great idea! I’ll try it. I’m delighted when I say it. This week my chiropractor said, You need more hydration, try drinking one more glass of water this week, and two more next week. I’m tickled when I counsel someone and they say Great idea, I’ll try it, as happened this week.  I spoke with a friend with a rare disease in a new community, Maybe you could focus next on building a new care team, Those are making a difference of one.

There’s another thrill to being a good leader and making a difference for a team: Family first. What do you need to get the job done? What do you recommend? We’ve got to have fun doing this. Some make a difference for communities, nations, the world with products and policy. For example, Obamacare provided health insurance for 20 million people; the Internet allowed virtual supportive communities to form. And there’s in between, as when a client says That’s a great idea to my proposal, we could use this platform to promote caregivers’ coaching each other and the caregivers could earn some money at it? Read More

What Keeps You Up at Night?

By | Advocate, Caregiver, ePatient | One Comment

I’m not a complainer or worrier-at least not often or for long. Comparatively, I have little to complain or worry about. Yet, this week I struggle with pneumonia, try to regain strength, not hurt myself coughing and not being a jerk or a burden. I’m also turning 65 and enrolling in Medicare. I keep dwelling on the amount of effort it takes to be or support someone who is sick. What is that effort? I’ve come up with six questions anyone who is worrying asks themselves. You’ll see in the pie chart below that I’ve arbitrarily assigned a percentage to how much I think most people worry about each question. (No science here, no evidence, just my thoughts)

Read More

$35 or $30,000 (I think) for a lifesaving drug

By | Advocate, ePatient, Leader | No Comments

Who benefits from the murkiness of finding the prices of prescription drugs? Clearly not patients and caregivers.

Today, I’m taking two potentially lifesaving drugs – azithromycin and rituximab.

According to GoodRx.com, azithromycin, prescribed for my pneumonia, has a cash price of $35 with a $10 copay cost to me.  Took me 10 seconds to find this.

I’ve spent more than four hours and I still don’t know how much the rituximab, a chemotherapy infusion for my multiple sclerosis, costs or will cost me. I’m turning 65 next week and I need to select a Medicare Advantage Plan. I spoke with several insurance companies. None can (or will) tell me the cost of Rituximab to them or to me. They differ whether it’s a formulary drug (covered at all). They differ whether they consider it a drug covered under Medicare Part D (see below) or an infusion, covered under Medicare Part B. If Part B it may be included in my premium.

Read More

E-Patients, experts with lived experience

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

This week I connected a patient with expertise in billing with a patient at the tail end of chemo struggling with huge unexpected bills. I introduced a cancer survivor with web design skills to a patient advocate setting up a new blog.

I’m struck by the breadth and depth of professional skills I encounter as I explore e-patient communities. (e-patient: empowered, engaged, enabled, equipped).  e-Patients have lived experience. I encountered the concept of lived experience first while working in the mental health world. According to the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia (MHCSA) a lived experience worker is “a person who is employed in a role that requires them to identify as being, or having been a mental health consumer or carer.” Read More

Bad experience? Now what?

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Consumer, ePatient, Leader | No Comments

I read a post this week on the Society of Participatory Medicine’s blog about a nightmare attempt to obtain medical appointments as new patients. You’ve faced the poor listening skills, conflicting information about the availability of appointments, lack of sharing information about you within the clinic or insurance company, poor or no follow-up, waiting, waiting, waiting, that the author describes.

I’ve dealt with it, too, as a patient, caregiver, clinician, and quality management leader. So, how do health care clinics and insurance companies know about the challenges their patients/customers live through? The most common is through surveys. Surveys are blunt (not sharp) and fairly useless. Most health plans require clinics to administer the CGAHPS Clinician and Group Survey. Three questions on the survey include:

  1. Patient got appointment for urgent care as soon as needed
  2. Patient got appointment for non-urgent care as soon as needed
  3. Patient got answer to medical question the same day he/she contacted provider’s office

You can answer Never, Sometimes, Usually, Always.

Most health plans survey patients about health plan service:

  1. In the last 12 months, when you needed care right away, how often did you get care as soon as you needed?
  2. In the last 12 months, how often did you get an appointment for a check-up or routine care at a doctor’s office or clinic as soon as you needed?
  3. In the last 12 months, how often was it easy to get the care, tests, or treatment you needed?

See, not very informative. A score might be more than 80% of patients say Usually or Always? That could mean that 19 of 100 people responding are unhappy with their experience. Wow. How can anything be changed based on that result? Read More