Archive for Patient Advocacy

Where’ve You Been Trisha?

Wish I had a nickel for each of the emails I’ve received from people who have followed this blog of mine…. Where have I been?  It’s a fair question.  It’s been months since I’ve blogged here… because, well, I’ve been doing my Willie Nelson thang… on the road again….

See all those stars on the map?  That’s where I’ve been.

(OK – I didn’t abandon my blogging completely.  I still blog at About.com several times each week, and I blog for patient advocates at the AdvoConnection blog, too…. )

But now I’m finally home to stay for a few weeks and can share with you some of the marvelous places I have visited, and more importantly, the wonderful, dedicated people I have met and learned from!

So many different audiences, so many interests in how patients access, perceive, are helped, and hurt.  From seniors, to medical students, to patient advocates, to providers, to employers, to pharma marketers, to patient activists – 14 different presentations, each one different, and each an opportunity to learn – from those who hoped to learn from me.

Here are a few audience highlights:

Patients:  I love patient audiences.  They have already figured out that they need tools to get better healthcare, so they don’t come to hear me speak unless they are already invested in the information.  They infuse themselves into the conversation – often agreeing with what I have to say, and sometimes disagreeing, too (which is how I learn from them what their hurdles are).  I had several opportunities to speak to groups of patients, on a variety of topics ranging from defensive medicine, to how to stay safe in the hospital, to how healthcare reform will affect us all. I had the privilege of speaking to, and meeting new patient audiences in Syracuse and Liverpool, New York, Sarasota, Florida and San Diego (through a program with Consumer’s Union).

Medical students: I had two opportunities to spend time with health professions students – one of my most important audiences.  If we can get our messages out to these young people while they are in the midst of learning their new skills, we have a better chance of improving our patient experiences.  From the 1 Health Program at the University of Minnesota, which includes not just future doctors, but future nurses, allied health professionals and veterinarians, to the Personalized Medicine 101 course at Upstate Medical – it was a real treat to swap thoughts and ideas with these eager-to-learn young adults.  My thanks to Sue Kostka, RN and Dr. Judith Buchanan at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Robert West at Upstate for believing in my ability to add to their students’ educations.

Employers:  My first opportunity to share patient empowerment with employers took place in New York City in October.  My point to them was that empowering their employees can improve employee health, confidence, and everyone’s bottom line.  I will be frank that I was disappointed in how the message was received – or wasn’t.  To me it is so obvious.  But I don’t believe I did a good enough job making the case.  Back to that employee drawing board which I realize requires more data – data that isn’t yet easily available, as near as I can tell.

Patient Activists:  Do you like that term?  My most recent adventure — some time in Orlando at the Institute of Healthcare Improvement’s Annual Forum.  The IHI provided scholarships – all expenses paid — to 50 of us who are involved in patient safety initiatives.  An incredible opportunity to meet some of the folks I have been in touch with for years, but have never met.  One of my patient advocate colleagues, Ken Farbstein, suggested it was like going to your class reunion, only this time we were the cool kids.  I’ve written more about this almost overwhelming experience.  We patient activists cannot thank the IHI, in particular CEO Maureen Bisognano and Paul Levy, enough for their recognition of the importance of our work, or their generosity in providing the means to bring us together.

Patients’ Advocates:  OK – I’ll admit it.  Patient advocates are my favorite audience.  I had two opportunities to meet new advocates and talk about this quickly emerging field.  As the proprietor of AdvoConnection for patients and AdvoConnection for advocates, I have a lot to say!  In an ongoing relationship with Michelle Gilmore of Heartwood Health, who holds numerous workshops during the year in Oakland, California plus the NAHAC Conference in Washington, DC where more than 100 advocates convened, it was an incredibly exhilarating experience to be in the presence of these patient advocates and navigators who are dedicated to improving healthcare for individuals, one-on-one.

As you can see, I’ve enjoyed an incredible few months.  As you will experience in the future – I have learned so much more than I imparted during those talks and presentations!

I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with you over the next weeks and months, in hopes of improving your healthcare experiences, too.

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PS – If you are looking for a health topic speaker for your event, please take a look at my credentials, then give me a call.

Posted in: AdvoConnection, Health /Medical Consumerism, Medical Errors / Mistakes / Misdiagnosis, Patient Advocacy, Patient Empowerment, Patient Safety, Self Help

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“Give Us Our Damned Data” Causes the First Meltdown in Awhile


Regina Holliday and Dr. Ted Eytan

Photo compliments of R2DC on Flickr

Regina Holliday’s husband, Fred, age 39, died of cancer in June 2009 leaving his wife, and his two young, beautiful children behind.  During their journey through the healthcare system to try to get Fred the help he needed, too many hurdles were put in their way.  Their story makes you want to scream.

Among the horrors of their journey was the fact that Fred was transferred from one hospital to another – without his medical records. With no records, Fred could not be treated. Regina attempted to get the records transferred, including returning to the first hospital to try to transport them herself.  Instead she was repeatedly stonewalled. Ultimately she was told that she could return to pick up the records in 21 days, and it would cost her 73 cents per page.

None of us can imagine how devastating and frustrating that must have been for her. Fred suffered physically, Regina suffered emotionally.  But today that devastation has become her passion and her mission in life.

Regina is not so much a fighter as she is an artist.  Don’t get me wrong – the girl can fight!  But she fights with the tools only she knows how to use to make her important points.  Those tools are canvas, brushes and paint – and talent that just doesn’t quit.

Even before Fred passed away, Regina began her fight by painting a series of murals on the sides of buildings in and around the Washington, DC area, where she lives.  Her first mural was called 73 Cents.  It’s located at 5001 Connecticut Ave. in Washington, DC.  It depicts some of the many horrible outcomes and experiences she and Fred went through to try to get those medical records.

Since then she has painted other murals, and other paintings – enough to do a showing last week, sponsored (supported by) Clinovations, a company known to us in the empowerment business, but perhaps less known to you.  Clinovations is working to change American healthcare.  They “get” what Regina’s work is all about.

OK.  So here’s where I begin to fall apart.  Please bear with me….

The largest painting is called Give Us Our Damned Data. It features 19 authors (and yes, I’m included — center to the right). All of us have suffered at the hands of the healthcare system, and all of us have written books about our experiences in hopes of improving the system for others.  Here’s a thumbnail version.  You can see a larger version here.

Give Us Our Damned Data!

Photo compliments of Cindy Throop on Flickr

You may recognize a face or two. Each of us is holding a tablet with portions of our book covers.  Each of these folks (Regina lists them all here) is a colleague of mine. Many I have met in person. We support each other, care about each other, stay in touch with each other. We are members of a fraternity that none of us would wish to share with our worst enemies. But we feel so lucky to have each other.

I shed four reasons worth of tears:

1.  I am so proud of my friend Regina for working so hard and sharing her sorrow in such a meaningful way.  I know it’s been a catharsis for her, and I know many others will NOT suffer because Fred, Regina and their children did.  I’m proud to be her friend, and at being included in her wonderful, poignant painting.

2.  I cry for each of the people in the painting.  Each of them has lost someone, or almost lost someone to a heinous mistake, impaled by a healthcare system that is supposed to fix and heal.  Each book is a catharsis, and each author hopes to spare someone else – maybe you – the pain of the loss of health, well-being, trust, and perhaps a loved one, too.

3.  Some tears are post-traumatic stress.  Each time I think about Regina and Fred’s story, mine comes rushing back, too.  Even though I share my story frequently, recounting the facts isn’t the same as facing the emotions.  The fear, helplessness, frustrations – when I first looked at Regina’s painting, I just fell apart.  It’s been a year since the last PTSD meltdown.  But there have been four more episodes in the past 30 hours. I keep thinking it’s getting easier… but… now I’m not so sure.

4.  My fourth reason — strangely enough — is relief.  As I carefully studied each of the paintings in the collection, I was hit with a truth that is so fundamental to all of this.  MY story is the polar opposite of Regina and Fred’s.  They could not get Fred’s records. I GOT MINE!  And that’s the point… !  If I had not gotten mine, then I would never have figured out I didn’t have cancer.  I would have been treated for a disease I did not have.  I would have been debilitated by chemo for no reason. At the end of my chemo, I would have been declared cured of an incurable cancer. But none of that happened BECAUSE I GOT MY RECORDS!

I’m healthy, and happy, and my life has never been better.  And my great revelation is that I am all those things because I was able to get copies of my medical records.  No one stood in my way or refused me copies or tried to charge me for them.  Along with my friend E-patient Dave DeBronkart – we are the poster children for the absolute GOOD that comes from sharing records with patients.

Over the next several years, you will hear discussions about whether patients should be able to access their medical records through the internet, or get copies much more easily than they do today (which, as you can see, isn’t always easy)… please remember this story.  Remember Regina and Fred.  Remember Dave DeBronkart’s and my good outcomes. It’s called meaningful use.  And it’s important.

And then fight your good fight to be sure we can always get those records.  They may save your life, too.

Interested in learning more about Regina’s work?

•  Here is Regina’s blog.

•  Here are Cindy Throop’s photos of the evening’s festivities.

•  Here is Dr. Ted Eytan’s discussion of the showing, including several dozen photos (and larger versions of the one above.) Please notice all the smiles.  Some irony, of course, but the recognition that life does go on, and important work is being done.

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Posted in: Healthcare Quality, Hospitals, Medical Errors / Mistakes / Misdiagnosis, Medical Records, Patient Advocacy, Patient Empowerment, Patient Safety, Patient Tools

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Uh-oh Video! (Can’t escape it…)

When it comes to TV and video, Al Roker provides one of my favorite quotations:

“They say the camera adds 10 pounds. OK. So I figure I must be standing in front of 10 cameras.”

Oh, yes, Al. I know how you feel….

However — I’ve decided to come out of my video-avoidance closet to share the following with you all.

First — my excitement at the invitation a week ago to appear on MSNBC to speak to a problem that I actually cited a few years ago – that July is the worst month of the year to be hospitalized. Why? Watch and see!

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

(Even got my two cents in about hiring patient advocates!)

So that’s the first one.  But if I’m going to jump in to the world of video, I might as well do it with both feet.  Many of you know that I am brought in to speak at various conferences and meetings across the US and Canada.  I enjoy speaking!  So in my attempts to do even more of it, I’m told I need to have a professional video made.  So, yes, I finally bit that bullet, too, and have uploaded the online version of the opening here.

It’s not like I’ve never done TV before – I have done local TV on a number of occasions.  And broadcast isn’t the problem – ferheavensake, I have hosted a radio show for 4+ years!  But video, in general, has just always been a step I’ve avoided.

Until today.  So, OK, I feel better now.  [[gulp]]

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Posted in: Healthcare Quality, Hospitals, Media, Medical and Research Studies, Patient Advocacy, Patient Empowerment, Surgery, You Bet Your Life!

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O! Fun to be Found in O Magazine

In the five years I’ve been working on patient empowerment and patient advocacy, I’ve been thrilled to have been quoted in the likes of the Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, Forbes, Fox, NPR, PBS and others…

But now I know I have arrived — because O Magazine came calling!  Sure enough — an article called Someone on Your Side — it’s about hiring a patient advocate to help you through a medical problem. Because I am the founder of AdvoConnection and work extensively with private patient advocates, I am one of the people quoted in the article.

I join three of my distinguished (and very talented!) colleagues.  Hari Khalsa is the Health Whisperer.  One of her patient-clients who was being treated for thyroid cancer just could not get her doctors to coordinate her care.  Hari stepped in to make sure the care was coordinated and Tracy, the patient, got what she needed.

Gail Gazelle is cited in the article, too.  Gail owns a private advocacy business called MDCanHelp.  Gail points out that too often doctors just don’t have the time to devote to care coordination as they should.  Private patient advocates step in to fill the gap.

And Ken Schueler, who has been coordinating care for cancer patients for many years, is quoted, too.  Ken provides some advice for finding good health information online about diseases, clinical trials and more.

The most important information for you?  When you read the article, you’ll realize how important it is you find an advocate to help you.  Although the Patient Advocate Foundation might work for you if you can’t afford an advocate (they handle insurance and  claims issues) — if you need care coordination and help with your medical decisions, then you must give serious consideration to hiring a private patient advocate.

So how do you find these people?  Simple:  a directory of advocates who have been reviewed for their expertise, and work closely with patients like you everyday:  www.AdvoConnection.com.

Private patient advocates provide you with improved health outcomes AND peace of mind.

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Posted in: AdvoConnection, Health /Medical Consumerism, Healthcare Quality, Patient Advocacy, Patient Empowerment

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Patients Don’t Believe the Evidence! What’s Wrong With Us?

The journal Health Affairs reports on a study that finds Evidence That Consumers Are Skeptical About Evidence-Based Health Care.

According to the abstract,

We found many of these consumers’ beliefs, values, and knowledge to be at odds with what policy makers prescribe as evidence-based health care. Few consumers understood terms such as “medical evidence” or “quality guidelines.” Most believed that more care meant higher-quality, better care. The gaps in knowledge and misconceptions point to serious challenges in engaging consumers in evidence-based decision making.

It goes on to explain how they did the study, how they drew their conclusions — and the bottom line is that we patients are making poor and expensive choices, we patients need to begin engaging more in our own care decisions, and therefore, and until we do, we will continue to be at fault for the huge cost of healthcare.

As their next step, Health Affairs developed a communication toolkit. But – just as every other group that tries to analyze patient behavior has done — it was developed FOR patients, to be given TO patients (through their employers) — but nobody worked WITH patients to develop it.

However — the study, the toolkit and the journal report have completely missed the boat on why patients don’t believe evidence. In fact, it has very little to do with evidence at all.

Here’s why:

Because the American healthcare system is based on profits — and the less engaged we patients are in our own decision-making, the more money there is to be made. As long as someone can make money from our need for care, we patients will continue to be manipulated so they can make their money. It’s not about evidence.  It IS about maintaining and increasing profit.

Some examples:

1.  Providers are not paid to talk to us.  In fact, they can’t wait to get us out the door.  Their goal is to make as much money they can from us — which is fair — but the system says that they have to do that by seeing as many patients as they can in their day.  More patients means less time per patient.  That approach, of course, is driven by payers. But how are patients supposed to discuss options with someone who won’t spend time with them?

My perspective as a patient:  I have symptoms. I am scared about what they mean.  The doctor won’t take the time to explain them or answer my questions.  He intimidates me, but he’s still the gatekeeper to all my medical needs, so I don’t dare make him mad.   I would love nothing more than to discuss options — but exactly who can I have that discussion with?

2.  Providers CAN make money by running tests and doing procedures – so they recommend all the tests and procedures they can get away with.  Further, they know that the paper trail of tests and procedures may cover their backsides one day if I ever sue.  That approach, of course, is driven by payers.

My perspective as a patient:  I have symptoms. I am scared about what they mean.  The doctor won’t take the time to explain them or answer my questions.  He intimidates me, but he’s still the gatekeeper to all my medical needs, so I don’t dare make him mad.  When he tells me I have to have a test or a procedure or take a certain drug, I just nod my head because I’m put on the spot. I don’t know the questions to ask, and even if I did, the doctor has left the room before I can even think to ask them.

3.  Providers are rewarded by writing prescriptions for expensive drugs.  (And don’t tell me that’s no longer legal because we all know it’s still going on — it’s just more covert.)  They are paid to speak at dinners, or they get their CME cruises paid for, etc….  Payers may encourage a prescription for a generic, but even that is no longer as true as it once was.  They’ve pretty much thrown in the towel – now they just charge patients a larger co-pay.

My perspective as a patient:  I have been diagnosed by the EXPERT — the doctor.  He suggests I take a certain drug. When the prescription is written for me, as I sit naked in his office, I have no way of knowing what it’s going to cost me when I pick it up… What I do understand is that a few months ago when I asked about a generic I was told that one didn’t exist for what I need.  Even if I ask, I’m afraid the doctor won’t be happy with me, and since it took me two months to get this appointment anyway, I just don’t want to rock the boat.

4.  Providers own equipment and facilities.  They encourage patients to use that equipment and those facilities.  MRIs, surgery centers – you name it, physicians own it — OR — they are employed by the people who own the equipment.  Those leases need to be paid!

My perspective as a patient:  I just know I banged up my knee and the doctor needs to look at it.  He tells me he’s sending me down the hall for an MRI.  What am I supposed to do — suggest I get an x-ray be done somewhere else instead?  Seriously.  Suppose he says no and gets mad?  My knee hurts today — I can’t wait another couple of months for an appointment with a different doctor!

etc etc etc

Perhaps by understanding our patient perspective on our interface with the system, you’ll better understand the bottom line to why we don’t make the choices that evidence or money suggests we should.

We don’t TRUST the system.  And we are AFRAID NOT TO TRUST our doctors.  Doctors are the gatekeepers.  They are the front line.  They are the ones who help us live and who may cause us to die – and we are intimidated.

Until the system shifts to a place where we can be partners, and feel as if our input will be listened to, considered, and respected, then there will be no massive shift in how patients influence their own care decisions, whether for evidence or money reasons, no matter how many communications toolkits are developed.

My regular readers know that I have never been about a victim mentality.  I have spent the last 5+ years writing and speaking to patients about getting past these hurdles. If there is anyone engaged in improving how patients approach their care, I’m at the front of the line.

But I’m also not willing to accept the blame being heaped on us patients as if we are children who haven’t yet done what we’ve been told.  You can’t flip a switch, tell us we are wrong, and that we are expected to change, when there is nothing about the healthcare system that will allow for that change.

Bottom line — as long as everyone in the healthcare industry is out to make a buck off our patient backs, there will be no improvement on a grand scale.  Period.

That’s evidence we all understand.

PS – think this is blown out of proportion? See what real patients have to say.

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Posted in: Doctor Communication, Follow the Money, Health /Medical Consumerism, Healthcare Quality, Medical and Research Studies, Patient Advocacy, Patient Empowerment, Patient Safety, Self Help

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