According to the September 2012 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, Communicating with Patients on Health Care Evidence, 97 percent of those surveyed with chronic conditions agreed that their care ought to be coordinated. Yet, only 54 percent said that their care was currently coordinated. If asked is my care for MS coordinated, at first blush I’d say yes. But then I wonder how do I recognize coordinated care? Would it be that all my providers talk to each other, work off the same data set? I realize that I am the coordinator. I ask for reports from one be sent to the others. I keep each informed about what the others are recommending and prescribing. I have a great team. I am completely satisfied with their expertise, the relationships and communication with me, and my health outcomes. My primary care doc takes her role very seriously. They all discuss options with me and seek out my personal goals and desires. They all have EMRs. Yet I am still the coordinator. Without my active coordination my care would be fragmented and based on incomplete data sets. I don’t need more than that, because it works, and I am very stable and cognitively very present and engaged. What if I weren’t? How would my care be coordinated? Would my wife or sons take it over, would my primary care doc step up? Yes, they would. Again, I’m very fortunate. I don’t see that coordinated care is the path of least resistance nationwide. It should be. How can it be?
I went to the Duke Wireless Health Conference (See #dukewhc for the tweet thread) in North Carolina this week invited by my friend Dr. Gopal Chopra of Ping MD fame. How to engage consumers more in their health care? As a patient, I bristled at the thought that I wasn’t engaged in my care. They don’t know me? I understand that I’m not representative of all consumers – no one is. We are all health care consumers, we are all on a health journey. There is much variation in those journeys. I also understand that other members of my health team – my primary care doc, my wife, my kids, my mother have opinions or perspectives about how engaged I am in my healthcare. I gained weight for several years. They suggested I lose weight. It wasn’t until this past year that I engaged in losing weight and lost 35 pounds. Two points: First I’m always on my health journey. The journey just happens. Second, my ability to focus on various aspects of that journey and engage in trying to change that journey ebbs and flows. Sometimes I focus on some of the seriously annoying aspects of MS: vision, mobility, balance. Sometimes, I need a rest from it all. can’t focus at all. I appreciate being accepted by my health team as I am. I appreciate that they care about me and listen to me actively. I appreciate their support when I’m ready to tackle a particular challenge, like weight loss. Ah, there it is – a team present when ready. Hold that thought.
We have a primal conundrum – the tension between population health and individual health. The community, the industry wants the population healthier. Makes sense: it’s the right thing, it costs the community less overall, and it feeds the economy. The tension comes when individuals feel that the community knows best – how do we get the horse to drink? Do we respect the horse? How do we align these forces? Treatments, products and tools are designed for populations (its a matter of scale), but used by individuals. My takeaways from the conference are: bring products and tools to where people are (Screening kiosks in Walmarts by SoloHealth); reconnect families to reunite health teams (Family Health Networks); allow more time for caring providers to engage with their patients; engagement is not about technology – technology serves the engagement and the relationships.
I’ve participated in several lively discussions about patient advocacy in the past weeks – at the Boston Healthca.mp #hcbos, on the Society for Participatory Medicine (#S4PM) list and with Kelley Connor of Real Women on Health fame. Advocacy has two overlapping worlds – individual advocacy and policy advocacy. I will muse here about individual advocacy in acute care. An advocate is a guide, champion, companion – health partner. So challenging for the acutely ill person to be effective as their own advocate. One of my sons went to Africa as a development aide worker. When I invited to engage on health with his team as they prepared for their adventure, I suggested that they identify a health partner among their team. Several months into their experience, we hadn’t heard from him in some time. Then we received a letter, Hi, I’m your son’s health partner. He contracted malaria… OMG. Health partners are those who know the patient and can focus on logistics, relationships, communication/information, and patient comfort. Vigilance about the mundane important things comes first: a good team, hand washing, pain management, and mobility. Next its access to information and setting goals or milestones. What has to happen before the patient can be discharged? Pain management, activity level, self care in the hospital, a safe place to go upon discharge. If the acute care is elective, its scouting out the official communication routes: who’s the charge nurse, where’s the patient relations office, will you be communicating with a hospitalist, an attending, a resident, or a student? Who’s in charge of the overall care for this episode? Charles Inlander’s book, Take This Book to the Hospital with You gave voice to my early nursing career observations that the health journey was a risky place. I had realized that my role as a nurse to be a patient advocate was valuable and necessary, but insufficient. Acting as an advocate for a son when he had cancer, I didn’t know as much as I thought about what he wanted and how I could be of help and not get in his way. We had many discussions together and as an immediate family about death and dying, about treatment options, about communication with extended family. So challenging to integrate my perspectives, emotions, fears and put his first. Thankfully, it wasn’t just me in that role. We had an advocacy team – my wife, other sons and their partners, his girlfriend and her parents. We did pretty well. As a nurse I’ve been challenged by advocates. It’s been rare that the advocate was clearly identified. More often the tension between family members muddied the water. For end of life issues, advanced directives and durable power of attorney helps clarify, but most acute care episodes are not end of life.
I’ve embraced and learned about health partners as a patient, caregiver, nurse, and leader. I’ve had cyclical conversations with any family I might serve as a health partner, especially my mother and my wife. With my mother it took 15 years to arrive at comfort with the discussion. My sister-in-law, a nurse, was the best I’ve ever seen identifying and supporting health partners with her patients. She brazenly and tenderly included it as part of her routine first assessment of every patient she cared for and then included them in the routine care.