Advance Directives Look Completely Different to Patients and Treatment Actors – So Partner in the Design

I have come to realize that patients and actual treatment providers may be thinking very differently about advance directives, and that therefore it is particularly critical that these documents — or rather the templates that are used, be designed in close partnership. between patients and providers

For the providers, the question they face is usually very treatment specific — typically something like: “do I turn off this machine now?”

For patients, the issue presents very differently focused on particular anticipated circumstances: “what do I want done when I can not eat?”

So, look, for example,  at this question from the Maryland MOLST document.


While some of us may think this second way, I think most of us come at it rather from the direction of, “what do I do when then the pain becomes too much?”, or “how do I guarantee that I am not left unable to say that enough is enough?”

I totally understand that given that the role of the MOLST is to ensure that specific decisions are made in accordance with the patient wishes, that often those decisions are made under time and emotional pressure by first responders with limited training, such treatment specific instructions are needed.  Otherwise treatment will tend to continue, regardless of what the patient wants.

But, if you have ever tried filling out the MOLST, or I suspect equivalent documents in other states, you will find that you are constantly fighting its categories, and wanting to add more and more detail, when allowed.

Given these differences in perspective between patients and providers, let me suggest that we need software that walks a patient though questions, and based on those answers, generates the directive.

However, the questions must be structured the way the patient thinks, laying out circumstances, and offering choices.  The software then restructures those into a set of formal directions that are treatment specific, like in the MOLST. Obviously then the patient reads and signs thee derived directives document.

I hope it is obvious that such software needs, and accompanying materials, need to be developed in close partnership between providers and patients.






NYT Article on Doctor Burnout Misses the Role of Patient Partnering

An interesting article in the Times on physician burnout collects the data the damage done to patients and does an excellent jo pointing out the need for institutional change rather than wedding out those who suffer burnout.

“The solution is not to weed out the ones who don’t care, but to support the large number of physicians who are deeply invested and have the capacity to provide excellent care, but lose that capacity over time,” Dr. Schonfeld said. “Physicians enter medical school deeply committed to the field, they come with the desire to be empathic and compassionate, if we just create a system that nurtures what they come with then we will have less burnout and higher quality care.”

It should not be the doctor’s responsibility to feel that “if I’m just more mindful, if I just exercise more or do it better or more consistently, all will be well, and I shouldn’t be feeling burned out or exhausted,” Dr. McClafferty said.

The fact that nearly half of physicians and over 50 percent of trainees experience burnout at some point “shows that it is not predominantly an individual deficit, but an organizational and system problem,” Dr. Schonfeld said

“If you’re my physician,” Dr. McClafferty said, “I want you to be in good shape mentally, physically and emotionally, so you can be really successful at helping me.”

All dead on, and very important. But, I would urge that building institutional structures that encourage patients to want to “take care” of our doctors could have a huge important.  Most of us are deeply grateful to our doctors — indeed to all the medical staff — and the best way to show that is to even just try to take care of our doctors.  I remember one of my doctors, when I gave her a copy of  new paper, said “I will put it on my self with the other gifts from patients.”  She was, I think, telling me how much she valued the gesture.  She did also promise to read the paper, saying that she liked to know what was going on in other fields.

I also try to engage my providers about things like the emotional difficulties of going from a massive crisis to a routine interaction.  I doubt it helps on the concrete level, but I hope it at least gives them permission to have emotions.

Above all, I suspect, conveying the sense of partnership, that we as patients take shared responsibility for decisions — both those that turn out well and those that turn out badly — helps reduce burnout.

Anyway, my overall point it is that is not just on the doctor and the institution, it is on all of us.

Planetree Tool to Explain and Invite Patient Partnering Published in BMJ

The BMJ has just published, as a response to a British Medical Journal editorial, An Invitation to Patient and Family Engaged Care for Consumers: What it is, Why it Matters and How Patients and Families Can Engage.

This short document, of which I am listed as a co-author, explains the concept of patient engaged care, describes and briefly summarizes the Planetree – National Academy of Medicine framework synthesis of the research into the impact of this approach, and perhaps most importantly, then specifically welcomes and invites patients to become engaged and partnering team members.  (Note that my blog, attempting to summarize the very rich and detailed original Planetree-NAM paper, into which I had some input, is here.)

The BMJ response includes our offered model “Dear Patients & Families” letter, which could be used by medical institutions to explain, welcome and support full engaged participation.

For example, it references and summarizes the research as follows:

The good news is that research shows that patient and family engaged care leads to better relationships between you and your healthcare providers. It helps keeps patients safe. It reduces healthcare costs and keeps people from being unnecessarily readmitted to the hospital. Patient and family engaged care makes healthcare staff feel more connected to the work they do, which makes for a better experience for everyone.

Some of its specific invitations  and suggestions to patients are as follows:

  • On your next visit to your healthcare provider, ask them if they have seen the framework for patient and family engaged care. If not, direct them here:
  • Ask your healthcare provider if there is a way for you to be involved in improving care. For example, ask if they have a patient-family advisory council.
  • Ask to be part of the organization’s leadership or government team. Ask if patients are included as board members, for example.
  • Ask to be with your loved one at all times, if they want that. Question why there are restrictions to visiting patients. If having visitors is not beneficial to your healing process, enlist the support of your care team to set parameters for guests.
  • Ask that a Care Partner or family member be present and engaged for all conversations about your health.
  • State your feelings. They matter just as much as your physical condition.
  • Get involved in research. Ask about how your condition is being studied and how you can help.
  • Let your care team know how you like to receive information.
  • Ask to see and contribute to your medical record. If you don’t understand what you read in your medical record, ask questions until you do.
  • Tell your care provider what your health goals are – in your own terms (for instance, being able to walk up a flight of stairs, being able to play with your grandchildren without getting winded, etc.)
  • Come to doctor’s appointments prepared. Bring a notepad with questions, your medication list and any other pertinent personal healthcare information.
  • Create a medical biography about yourself. What conditions and medications have you had in the past? What are you currently experiencing? What are your goals for the future?
  • Act like you belong. Be a teammate, not a subject.

I think the last one, “Act like you belong. Be a teammate, not a subject,” sums the whole approach up perfectly.

I very much hope that medical institutions will want to include this letter in their intake, on-boarding process for new patients, and to encourage staff to use its suggestions as a framework for discussions with patients about a team approach and its specifics. It, together with the underlying NAM framework, could also be an excellent too for staff training at all levels on how not just to have an engagement discussion, but to make all discussions team discussions.

If this approach because a standard in most institutions, then we will truly be on the way way to a greatly improved system.

P.S. Working with Planetree on this has been a great honor and opportunity.

What To Expect From Death Itself, and Opportunities for Patient Partnering

I remember vividly, from when my sister was dying back in 1997 in the second hospice in the world (link to my parents’ book full text),  how important it was to my mother that when asked what she feared most, she was able to say “the death rattle” and that Dr. Robert Twycross was able to reassure her both of the insignificance of the sound, and that he would in any event make sure that it did not occur.

So, I found a new article by Doctor Sara Manning Peskin in the New York Times particularly powerful and empowering. Under the headline The Symptoms of Dying, Dr Peskin first points out that as the “letting go” gets closer, deaths become more and more similar.

You and I, one day we’ll die from the same thing. We’ll call it different names: cancer, diabetes, heart failure, stroke.

One organ will fail, then another. Or maybe all at once. We’ll become more similar to each other than to people who continue living with your original diagnosis or mine.

Dying has its own biology and symptoms. It’s a diagnosis in itself. While the weeks and days leading up to death can vary from person to person, the hours before death are similar across the vast majority of human afflictions.

Some symptoms, like the death rattle, air hunger and terminal agitation, appear agonizing, but aren’t usually uncomfortable for the dying person. They are well-treated with medications. With hospice availability increasing worldwide, it is rare to die in pain.

And, PLEASE PLEASE, note that last sentence.  Only a couple of days ago, at dinner at our retirement community, it turned out that several of our friends, informed, educated, with great access to services, still had no confidence that they would have a “good death.”

The article  (which is the first of two) then goes on to outline those various stages and symptoms the body may face: The Death Rattle, Air Hunger, and (the wrongly named) Terminal Agitation, and how they are addressed.

I guess the reason I find this relevant to patient partnering is that I think it is really important for anybody facing serious illness to be given information about all of this as soon as possible.  Having that on the table — or at least the general reassurance that it can all be managed when the time comes, will just make it far easier for an honest cooperative partnering discussion about whatever else needs to be engaged.  My guess is that most of those providing care will also become more relaxed when they know that patient and family want to know what will happen, and are willing to share their worries and have them addressed.

A Patient Partnering Perspective From the London Tower Fire

A general practitioner from the neighborhood near the tower, Ahmed Kazmi, wrote this on the British Medical Journal Blog to describe his visit to an already well-staffed community center:

As a doctor I felt slightly redundant. The centres were very well staffed as so many doctors and nurses had volunteered. I sat down on the floor and played with some children. I didn’t use my stethoscope those hours I was at the centre, but I still feel I was a doctor. I think that sometimes empathy and witnessing someone’s grief are as important a part of our role as procedures or prescribing.

He also noted:

.  .  .  A group of young black Muslim boys, who were fasting themselves, walked around with jumbo pizzas offering everyone slices. A group of ladies arrived to offer face painting for the children.  .  .  It was striking how all of the usual prejudices or divisions, which so frequently surface, were all suspended. People from all walks of life were empathetic and loving to each other. For a period at least people stopped being black, white, Muslim etc and were just “human.” If this type of unity is possible in times of tragedy, I think it is realistic to aim for it all the time.

Sometimes presence and connection is the best, or even the only, healing.  And part of partnering is developing the ability to sense the needs of the other, and find a way to help meet them.  It is also not just about the individual “patient” but of the whole community and environment.  Thank you Dr. Kazmi.



The Impact of Public Data About Doctors on the Partnering Relationship

In a development that I would normally welcome without any reservation, the wonderful news and investigation website ProPublica has just launched a new service called “Vital Signs” about doctors.

Today we’re launching a project called Vital Signs that puts the most important information from across all of our health care projects in one easy-to-use place, and can alert you when we get new information or when something happens you should know about right away, for example if your provider is now paid more per patient than 90 percent of peers, which may be a sign of overtreatment or use of more costly services.

Our health care databases, including Dollars for Docs and Prescriber Checkup, have long been among the most popular features of our site, and are a key part of the mission of our data team — to help people use data to make better choices and live better lives. We’ve spent years collecting, cleaning and analyzing data about hundreds of thousands of doctors and other health professionals across several different interactive databases. Vital Signs lets you see what matters most across all of them, and dig deeper to explore even more data.

My only, and highly limited question, is whether there is a risk that patients will look up their doctor and misinterpret the data.  Now, this is much more reliable that a Yelp review, or other subjective info.

So, my answer, is that doctors should all look themselves up, welcome and perhaps encourage questions from their patients about the data, and respond with candor and openness.

In return, we patients have to remember that these kid of tools do not necessarily fully explain data, and that these tools should generally be considered the beginning of a conversation, rather than a replacement for it.

I would also encourage major medical institutions to look at the data and see what might be needed to introduce, explain, and contextualize it.  Indeed, they might find things that they need to know about, but did not!

This all takes time, but in the end it can strenghten partnering, which in the end both saves time and improves quality.


NQF Advanced Illness Care Strategies Webinar On March 15

The National Quality Forum Issue Brief, Strategies for Change – A Collaborative Journey to Transform Advanced Illness Care, which was issued late last year after work involving a large Action Team, brings together six different areas of need and discusses the relationships between these six areas of need and their components.  It is a major advance in expanding understanding that those facing serious illness have to deal with far more than the pain/consciousness choice and the quality/quantity choice, they also have to engage with all kind of other pressures, many of which have in the past hardly been dealt with by the health care system.  This is not just about end of life, but about all those facing serious health centered challenges.  I discussed the Brief in some detail here. (Disclosure: I provided some input and help NQF with presentations about the ideas, doing so from a patient partnering point of view.)

The areas are well shown in this chart:


Just looking at the list will convince you that any solution that fails to address all of these areas can not be said to be person-centered, because it is at best centered on only apart of the person, rather than all of them.Moreover, failure to address any of the six will obviously undercut all of the six, not just the one explicitly not covered.

The next step in making the vision behind the Brief a reality is a March 15 webinar.  This webinar (sign-up information below) will delve into case studies which demonstrate how physicians, nursing homes, home health agencies and others can integrate the preferences in this chart into existing quality efforts.

For some, hearing about these examples may be much more practical and realistic a way of thinking about moving forward than the more analytic approach in the paper.  Others may find the combination of examples and analysis the most empowering of all.  Indeed, the Brief itself does include some brief “snapshots,” examples of innovation in practice.

As the Issue Brief concludes:

Building on the movement towards person- centered advanced illness care, the time is now to bridge medical care, social services, and community assistance to form a stronger support network for individuals with advanced illness and their families and caregivers.

The webinar it a great place to start plugging in to this network.  You can register for the Webinar here.  Not to be missed.