Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories

Archive for June 2012

Tea and Technology

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Being invited into a person’s home is an enormous privilege. Most people I see have recently been quite ill, or more often have chronic ailments that have put them into the situation of wanting to find out how they can stay in their homes, so a good number of them also spend some time apologizing in advance for the mess.

With all the technology that is available now, I can see that it would be far easier and faster for me to teleconference. It would save my driving time–and mileage costs–and the consumer would never have to worry about the mess in the house. We could talk, and I could look things up immediately in my office, much more easily than is often the case when I go out. And I could see more people. I could teleconference with hospital staff, and even meet with patients if portable devices were available there.

But the problem, you see, is that you cannot drink tea by teleconference.

You cannot shake hands, or smell the lemon–or gosh, the kitty litter. You cannot sit beside a person in a hospital for a few minutes, and you cannot run into a colleague in the hall.

I see a tremendous solution in this technology to the difficulty so many people have just in securing transportation to medical appointments–or at least some of them. It could open so many doors, decrease the number of times a visiting nurse has to go out to a home…

But I think of the woman I saw two weeks ago. She had just made coffee when I arrived, in spite of the infection that was developing right then, post-surgery, in spite of the fact that a day later she would be in the hospital once more. She told me about her pets, her life before moving to this country, the flowers she had long ago planted in the backyard–and I could see the hostas from the kitchen table.

She was alone in the house, and spent many days without seeing another person, she told me.

Another couple showed me the schedule of their appointments to a variety of doctors and clinics, the pharmacist. It seemed to be the only time they left their house, and their lives revolved around it.

“Being young isn’t for sissies,” a consumer once told me. He confessed later that he had stolen the line from Bette Davis. But he said it was true–I was trying to figure out how he could get some help while his wife recovered from flu. He had just come home from the hospital after a bout of it himself, and they went round and round with that, then pneumonia from hospital to home, or short-term rehab, then home.. and the insurance?

I see people all the time whose lives are focused on their healthcare. It is hard to imagine them not going out to see their doctors this way, not to depend on the daily visits from a nurse. It would be so nice if the visits were not focused on this sort of monitoring, but if the people were healthy–even with disabilities–these visits would stop. It is a huge shock to lose a friendly face who comes every so often, or even just once in a while. It is hard to give up leaving home for a few hours, even to go through another blood test, or lecture. There is always the stop for lunch, the chat with the woman with the baby in the waiting room.

People with chronic illnesses and disabilities are often so isolated, and so easily defined not by their unique qualities as human beings, but by what is perceived by most of us as abnormal: their illness, their disability. I wonder, if we remove the barriers to easy treatment with telemonitoring, with other technologies… can we also devote so much time and expense into removing the barriers to bringing people back to the community? Can we devote the savings to better transportation for non-medical needs? Can we build better communities in general, more accessible housing, more available housing? Can we figure out a way to make it more possible for people to use their time in ways that they choose?

Can we fill the gap that we will create by removing so many in-home visits for providers, so many office visits for consumers?


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25 Jun 2012 at 11:01pm

It Won’t Happen to Me

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Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me. (Martin Niemöller)

Last week was a rough one in the trenches. I had a short week, but found myself shaking my head again and again at the distinct tragedies I was watching.

Now, everything I write here is based on my own experiences, and not on any sort of surveys or data I have collected over time. But usually, I find later that the trends I see are real (most recently, my obsession with outpatient observation status increasing in hospitals over the last three years was substantiated).

But I have to say, judging from the sheer number of people I see, and from the increasingly dire circumstances they find themselves in, the healthcare crisis has hit levels I never imagined.

I think it is far worse than most people think, because most of the people who are in real trouble are completely invisible. Or, more exactly, they are inside, and isolated, either in hospitals or nursing homes, or in their own homes–provided they still have homes–which they rarely leave. Or they are in shelters, hidden because they are in places that no one wants to go. It is sure that we all know someone–a family member, friend or just an acquaintance–who has lost everything after an illness or disability. The problem is only getting worse.

I write today, on the eve of a Supreme Court decision, with a great feeling to continue the advocacy. But at the same time, I am aware of the Cassandra effect. Do we believe that this is real? Do we want to?


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18 Jun 2012 at 10:11pm


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I was talking last week to a group of intensive case managers in a big primary care practice that is moving to a medical home model.

Now, I like my work a lot, especially when things click, and it really is a matter of helping people navigate the system. I like it even better when I get to tell the changemakers–legislators, heads of healthcare systems, etc.–what people really want and need.

The problem is, people often do not know what they want, much less need. And this creates a situation where other people, or whole systems, try to dictate this to them. Or more exactly, try to dictate how people should live their lives in order to be healthy, and therefore happy.

Health and happiness, though, are qualitative terms that are not easily measured by what may be deemed as wellness in many respects. If a person feels fine, that perception is unlikely to change unless something changes rather dramatically in qualitative measures: it hurts, or it keeps me from being able to do something.

And even then, it seems to me that the change has to be rather sudden. Loss of ability over time allows for adaptation. And in general, this is good.

But in comes the healthcare system, with its idea that it has to fix things.

Or so I hear. There is a rather amazing power dynamic between many a sick patient and a doctor. The one that is perhaps skeptical about all the prescription bottles sitting on his kitchen counter (how much they cost, and how they are making him feel) and the doctor who sees a treatment as the thing that will significantly improve that patient’s quality of life.

So, I spend a lot of time working on issues around quality of life–housing, for example. Or transportation–not just to medical appointments, but to go out to the store, or to the hairdresser (amazing how often this concern comes up). And I also spend a lot of time telling people what their rights are, what choices they have whether in the hospital or in trying to make home modifications. And the person who will use the resources is always the person who drives the bus, in my book.

The case managers I saw last week all were happy about this, and agreed.

So, I am always eager to hear about the professionals I work beside, too. What is frustrating to them? What would make their jobs easier?

I asked the case managers what their biggest challenge was.

Their answer?


It was universal, and it stunned me. I was thinking about that as I visited people in the next week, people in varied and often drastic situations. I was thinking about concerns around hospital readmissions and chronic conditions that often lead to more disease, or worse. And I was thinking about this whole idea of compliance, and what it really means.

I think it is a matter of control. Some people may know full well that they feel better if they stick to a regime of one sort or another, and still choose not to do it. But there may be a lot of other issues that lead to what appears to be lack of compliance.


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There sure are a lot of comparisons between doctors and car mechanics. I guess I can see the similarities. Consultants with expert knowledge that costs us a lot. Repairs needed. I understand that the comparison is often made to emphasize the point that that we are rather free to shop around for people who do repairs on our automobiles, and there is–to some extent–more transparency in that process than there is in the healthcare process. We do not depend on insurance for most car repairs, and not at all for maintenance. And our lives can be significantly altered by the quality of work; in fact, shoddy workmanship on those large pieces of fast-moving metal might well land us in search of services from our local body (human body) shop.

But I have to say that in urgent situations both of the automotive and of the human sort, we are rather at the mercy of the closest trauma center. And really, we can only hope in these situations that


Written by Only Anecdotal

4 Jun 2012 at 1:11pm