Monday, August 30, 2010

My review of Elizabeth Cohen's book "The Empowered Patient"

This month CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen released her first book, The Empowered Patient: How to Get the Right Diagnosis, Buy the Cheapest Drugs, Beat Your Insurance Company, and Get the Best Medical Care Every Time. I got an advance review copy, and it's taken me this long to figure out how to express my thoughts. I just posted this review on Amazon.

I've always been an empowered patient, so I didn't need to be sold on the concept. I'm a cancer-beating patient blogger, I'm co-chair of a medical society about doctor-patient partnerships, and I wrote my own book. So my question was, what does this book bring that's new?

What it brings is convincing stories, clear explanations, and concrete how-to's. It's short, comprehensive, and convincing. I don't see how you can NOT read it if you're responsible for someone's care, including your own. It awakens you to possibilities and risks, leaving you aware and enabled.

(Disclosure: Cohen wrote a quote for the jacket of my book, which is selling a million times slower than hers. But her view is different from mine. I've worked for weeks figuring out how to express the differences here.)

I'll start with the author's challenge, then how she handles it, then my objections.

The first big challenge for an author in this space is that *people tend not to care* about quality until trouble hits. And when it does, there's an instinct to not rock the boat: people want to stay put, to believe they're getting the best care possible. It's not rational, but I've seen it repeatedly: people are loathe to step out of the boat they're in, especially in troubled waters.

It's hard to hear that care might fall short, but it can. And there are many causes: human fraillties, lagging technology, information overload, even business ethics.

And here's the author's dilemma: the better you prove this with story after story, the more readers might feel powerless and turn away.

So how do you reach people?

This is where Cohen's mass media skills come in. She knows how to tell a story concisely, dip into the underlying reasons, and come back up with some concrete "Here's what to do's." There's an art to this: her own stories about her baby and her mother sometimes brought me to tears, but I wasn't turned away as I sometimes am. I was left feeling *this stuff matters*, and patients can help. By wising up, thinking for themselves, and speaking up.

Objections: if Amazon had a 100-point scale I'd give it a 95, not 100. First, a stylistic nit: it's obviously written by a TV person. Time after time she injects, "Coming up, I'll tell you how you can xyz"; I could almost hear "...right after this message." But people who think "She can't be serious, she's on TV" are wrong: every one of her anecdotes rings true, based on the many people I've met at conferences, and almost all her "What you can do's" are spot-on.

I agree with Mack90's comment that dot-gov sites are not quite as valuable or perfect as the book suggests: they can lag behind or be editorially skewed, no guarantee of "bestness." I've seen plenty of outdated information about my own disease (kidney cancer) on sites that match her recommendations, including sites with seals such as HON. But I don't feel as strongly about this as Mack90 does.

Finally, I object pretty strenuously to the title of the opening chapter: "How to be a `bad' patient." I'm clear that Cohen's intent (as she said yesterday in the New York Times) was to reach people where they are - speaking into the mindset of the mass market she talks to professionally, where many people feel it's not good (or even safe) to question one's doctor. I get the point, but I would have preferred to word it "It's *OK* to be a `bad' patient." In my view, "how to be bad" is a rough start for a book about empowerment.

But that brings me back to the top: this book brings mass-market communication skills to an area where many of us have worked hard to wake people up. Our books have contained much more information from different angles, but this could be the breakthrough that opens millions of minds.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

An interlude for laughter, the best medicine

I used laughter when facing my cancer, then put it in the title of my book.

This is from Uncle Sandy in Atlanta. Get ready.

(Email subscribers, if you can't see the video, click the headline to view it online.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Compliance: It's Not Just for Patients Anymore."

I'm in a patient safety workshop in Boston today, about engaging minorities in safer care. We just saw a video about safety awareness, encouraging patients to realize what a good role they can play in helping clinicians (doctors and nurses) get everything right. (Long story short, there are many many ways that things can and do go wrong - some complicated, some simple.)

When people talk about making healthcare more effective, "compliance" often comes up. It's usually about whether you and I take our pills, improve our diet, etc. Patient compliance is a hot topic on blogs: Google shows 93,000 blog posts, and 9,000 in the past year.

But the video made a thought come up: holy cow, a lot of healthcare quality issues are because clinicians forget to fulfill their part of the plan. Ironic! But fault-finding finger-pointing doesn't produce behavior change as well as inspiration does - calling forth what people know to be the best in themselves. Here's a draft of a message we might want to spread - feel free to share:

"Compliance: It's Not Just for Patients Anymore."

We all know about patient compliance: whether patients follow our instructions to accomplish good care. When compliance falls short, our profession is undermined. Care suffers, and our efforts are frustrated.

The same is true when we don't comply with our part. Whether it's hand washing or the Five Rights of administering medications, any shortfall cheats the profession as well as the patient. And perhaps our diligence - or lack of it - even rubs off on patients.

Compliance isn't just for patients anymore. Let's not cut corners. Let's set a great example for every patient, and stick to the plan.

This text authored by "e-Patient Dave" deBronkart. May be posted & shared freely with this attribution intact (Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0)

Additional resources:
  • The safety awareness video is in this post.
  • MITSS, the sponsor of this workshop, is here.
  • The "five rights of medication administration" are:
    • The right patient (this is why they constantly ask your name and date of birth)
    • The right drug (medications too often get mixed up)
    • The right dose (Dennis Quaid's newborn twins famously almost died because two bottles of medication looked too similar though one was 1,000 times stronger)
    • The right time (4x/day, before meals, etc)
    • The right route (pill vs IV, etc)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Are you happy about why you're here? Are you free to be?

TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. Love this quote:

"Is it rational, is it logical, that anybody should be expected to be afraid of the work that they feel they were put on this earth to do?"

I'm posting it because the work I'm doing now is so fabulous, such a self-expression, that I get what she means. As it says on my business website, “This is the first time in my life I’ve felt I have a calling,” says Dave, “something I can’t get away from: it’s what I need to do. I’ve had plenty of fulfilling jobs in a great career, but not a calling. This is it.” And I think everyone should be on the lookout for what calls to them - like the muse she describes that flew into Tom Waits's head while he was driving, or the one that pulled the poet home to grab a pencil and pull that verse out of the air. Backwards, if necessary, as it tried to get away.

I know the feeling described in this talk, of a message coming through me, in a way that I just grab as it goes past. And when I speak, I just say what apparently is waiting to be said.

I'm going to watch this over and over. Thanks for the support you all give me, and special thanks to high school classmate Susan Alnes for steering me to this.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What's new in the new life of e-Patient Dave

A phone call today made me realize it's been ages since I've updated loyal readers with what's going on. It's been a busy and wonderful time. My business website is, with pages for various goings-on:
  • The big news is that my book was released a month ago: Laugh, Sing, and Eat Like a Pig: How an empowered patient beat Stage IV cancer (and what healthcare can learn from it).

  • I've traveled a lot in recent months, speaking, attending policy meetings in DC, and meeting with people doing good work in healthcare. My schedule page is here.
    • One of my favorites is that in October I'll be attending the fabulous TEDMED conference in San Diego, serving as an analyst for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. These are truly wonderful people with [big] fingers in many great healthcare projects, including Aligning Forces for Quality - a multiyear project that's already developing great data on how we can do healthcare better.

There's more; explore my website, or heck, just google "e-Patient Dave." :–) As I say, it's been busy and wonderful.

I'm particularly grateful to Klick Pharma, my client who produced the superb short version of my long story, which I posted here in June. They're exquisitely skilled, they really get it about patient engagement, and they're carrying the message forward skillfully.

Thanks to all of you who've been so supportive and encouraging - especially you who've provided paying work, to keep this "project" alive. Here's to better health for all!