Doctors Asking Patients to Help in the Informed Consent Process

Two doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Mikkael Sekeres and Dr. Timothy Gilligan, have written an article in the New York Times explicitly asking patients to partner in the improvement of the informed consent process.  As they put it:

We’ve seen too many patients regret decisions that they made without fully understanding their options, or the possible outcome. We encourage our patients, and our colleagues, to be partners in what are often life-changing decisions about health care.
(bold added)

The article also includes an honest appraisal of how the process can go wrong, and the possible impact.

They offer these specific requests to patients.

■ Ask us to use common words and terms. If your doctor says that you’ll end up with a “simple iliac ileal conduit” or a “urostomy,” feel free to say “I don’t understand those words. Can you explain what that means?”

■ Summarize back what you heard. “So I should split my birth control pills in half and take half myself and give the other half to my boyfriend?” That way, if you’ve misunderstood what we did a poor job of explaining, there will be a chance to straighten it out: “No, that’s not right. You should take the whole pill yourself.”

■ Request written materials, or even pictures or videos. We all learn in different ways and at different paces, and “hard copies” of information that you can take time to absorb at home may be more helpful than the few minutes in our offices.

■ Ask for best-case, worst-case, and most likely scenarios, along with the chance of each one occurring.

■ Ask if you can talk to someone who has undergone the surgery, or received the chemotherapy. That person will have a different kind of understanding of what the experience was like than we do.

■ Explore alternative treatment options, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each. “If I saw 10 different experts in my condition, how many would recommend the same treatment you are recommending?”

■ Take notes, and bring someone else to your appointments to be your advocate, ask the questions you may be reluctant to, and be your “accessory brain,” to help process the information we are trying to convey.

These are all excellent best practices.

Now, it would be easy to throw back at the doctors – “Well, you and your institution should be putting most of these in place anyway.  Why put it back on us?

But I think that actually misses the point.  Implicit in the article and in the request is the understanding that medical systems are not monolithic, and that change comes much faster under pressure.  So I understand this as a request to demand partnership in consent, and to implement the practices that can help ensure it.  I also understand this as a request that patients, and particularly groups such as Patient and Family Care Councils affirmatively campaign for the full institutionalization of these approaches.

Ideally progress through such an approach will help lay the groundwork for other patient-partnering innovations.  Indeed, informed consent is such a great area in which to start because the law is clear, and the only question is about the effectiveness of the process.

P.S.  This also underlines the value of research, and of understanding the process of creating a culture of partnering.  It might be interesting to give these suggestions as a handout prior to the consultation, and to measure hospital staff attitudes to informed consent and indeed to patient partnering, before starting doing so, and again after a few months.

 

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.

 

NPR Piece on Value of Patient Input Into Research Design

Jill Harrison of Planetree pointed out this nice piece on NPR on the value of bringing patients into the research design process.  It reports on a study testing the approach of classifying and treating malignancies by genetic type rather than initial site.  The report says that the study is having great success in participant recruitment in part because its design incorporated the patient voice.

.  .  .  [T]he researchers who designed the study stopped to ask what would appeal to potential participants. Nancy Roach, a longtime patient’s advocate who lives in rural Oregon, got involved early on, and helped advise the scientists planning this study.  .  .  .

“This is going to sound goofy, but my dad was in advertising,” she tells Shots. “Remember the scrubbing bubbles — Dow scrubbing bubbles? That was my dad. So I grew up watching commercials and thinking about what consumers wanted.”

Roach brought that sensibility to the conferences where the NCI-MATCH trial was being designed. The original plan would have split the study participants who seem to be doing well on the test treatment into two groups. One group would continue the treatment; the other would take a break, called a drug holiday.

I’m not a scientist. I’m not a clinician. I’m there on behalf of patients.” Roach remembers her immediate reaction to that design: “Taking a patient who’s responding to treatment and taking them off treatment? That is not going to fly.”

She correctly anticipated how patients like Nancy Nahmias would have reacted, as they deliberated whether to sign up for the trial.

“I would not have liked that,” Nahmias says. “If it seems to be working, let’s face it, I don’t want to do anything to sabotage myself.”

Dr. Peter O’Dwyer, a University of Pennsylvania oncologist who was involved in the study design, readily admits that “the design had certain attractions, but it clearly had certain flaws.”

As the patient advocate Nancy Roach, points out:

From Nancy Roach’s perspective, it takes a bit of nerve to speak up in a room of doctors and scientists and ask, “Will the results of this study actually help anybody?”

But it’s Roach’s responsibility to ask those basic questions. “I’m not a scientist,” she says. “I’m not a clinician. I’m there on behalf of patients.”

In order to ensure clarity about the extent and stage at which the patient input occurred, I reached out directly to the researchers for some additional information.  This was their response:

Patient input was part of the process from the outset, when the NCI-MATCH trial was still only a concept. A group of cancer research advocates and patients, including Nancy Roach the person quoted by NPR and several others, discussed the pros and cons of the scientific rationale for the “drug holiday” in detail with study leaders, among  various approaches. It became clear that the patients and their advocates were not in favor of this approach. As a result, the idea was abandoned and did not become a part of the trial design, which proceeded to formal and final review by federal regulatory authorities, including the NCI Central Institutional Review Board.

 

The Implications of Teaching Death Ed in Schools

A recent article by Jessica Nutik Zitter in the New York Times discusses the begining of what could become a trend to engage students with issues of death and dying during high school.

I am a doctor who practices both critical and palliative care medicine at a hospital in Oakland, Calif. I love to use my high-tech tools to save lives in the intensive-care unit. But I am also witness to the profound suffering those very same tools can inflict on patients who are approaching the end of life.  .  .  .

Many of the patients I have cared for at the end of their lives had no idea they were dying, despite raging illness and repeated hospital admissions. The reasons for this are complex and varied — among them poor physician training in breaking bad news and a collective hope that our technologies will somehow ultimately triumph against death. By the time patients are approaching the end, they are often too weak or disabled to express their preferences, if those preferences were ever considered at all. Patients aren’t getting what they say they want. For example, 80 percent of Americans would prefer to die at home, but only 20 percent achieve that wish.  .  .  .

Last week, my colleague Dawn Gross and I taught our first death ed program in my daughter’s ninth-grade class at the Head-Royce School, a private, progressive (and brave) school in Oakland. In the classroom, we had some uncomfortable terms to get out of the way early on, just as I did in sex ed — death, cancer, dementia. We showed the teenagers clips of unrealistic rescues on the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy,” and then we debunked them. We described the realities of life in the I.C.U. without mincing words — the effects of a life prolonged on machines, the arm restraints, the isolation. Everyone was with us, a little tentative, but rapt.

After teaching the kids how to play ” Go Wish” a card game designed to help bring out the students own preferences:

Dawn and I walked out with huge smiles on our faces. No one had fainted. No one had run out of the class screaming. The health teacher told us she was amazed by their level of engagement. It is my hope that this is only the first step toward generating wide public literacy about this phase of life, which will eventually affect us all. The sooner we start talking about it, the better.

Let me suggest that this is perhaps the very best way to encourage patient partnering, not just at the end of life, but throughout it.  Those who take “death ed,” will have had experience talking about the realities and about choices from an early age.  They will have considered values and the different roles of health professionals, the family and the patient.  They will be more willing to ask questions (at any age), to empower others to ask questions, and to object when those questions are not appropriately responded to.  I suspect that in many families the students will end up as the facilitators of these difficult conversations because others do not yet have the skills to start them.

I would love to see some follow up studies of those who take these classes and whether they become better at communicating with their own medical professionals, even in the short term.

I would also like to see hospitals and clinics seeing it as part of their mission to expand these kind of discussions into a wide variety of institutions.  I would only also emphasize that it would be a massive lost opportunity if the discussion was limited to the death process.  The truth is that all the same issues lurk in many health processes.  It is just that the issues are much starker when death is on the table.

Thoughts on What We Ask of Our Doctors When We Reject Aggressive Cure Attempts

I have been thinking a lot in the last couple of days about what burdens we put on our physicians when we reject aggressive interventions.

Obviously, I am speaking very personally here, based on my deep reluctance to have a bone marrow transplant for my MDS bone marrow cancer.  So this should not be projected directly into other situations, although maybe it is worth thinking about, and even discussing with medical team members.

It is almost easy for me to proudly declare that I am not going to give into medical system pressure, and am looking for quality over quantity of life.  But when I started to put myself in the team’s shoes, it came out like this:

“I am asking you to not deploy the best technology you have to lengthen my life.  That means that you will “fail” at what you have been trained to do, to fight all the way, or at least all the reasonable way.  You will have to watch me die, and try to make that as bearable as possible, all the while knowing that maybe that could have been prevented.  You already know, from your experience, how hard it is experience, and how hard it is to watch.  Moreover, I am asking you to run the risk that later on — too late — you will change your mind.  Or maybe you will just suspect that I have changed my mind, and you will wonder if you had presented information differently, maybe we would not be in this place.”

That is a lot to ask, particularly for those trained in the current governing ideology of medicine.

It does definitely not mean that as a patient, I should not do what I want to be nice to my doctor.  But it does involve an obligation to be sensitive to the impact.

We need to remember that the duty to take care goes both ways in the patient-doctor relationship.

 

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:

advanced-illness-care-graphic-1016-01_fotor

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.

 

 

Framework for Patient Engaged Care — Important Analysis and Tool

The National Academy of Medicine/Planetree paper, whose full title is Harnessing Evidence and Experience to Change Culture: A Guiding Framework for Patient and Family Engaged Care, represents in my opinion a major step forward in building the knowledge base and strategy for changing the entire medical culture.  (Disclosure, I contributed some input into the paper.)

I think it is important to give the full text of the first paragraph of the abstract, since it is such a useful manifesto for the whole patient partnering/engagement movement.

Patient and family engaged care (PFEC) is care planned, delivered, managed, and continuously improved in active partnership with patients and their families (or care partners as defined by the patient) to ensure integration of their health and health care goals, preferences, and values. It includes explicit and partnered determination of goals and care options, and it requires ongoing assessment of the care match with patient goals. This vision represents a shift in the traditional role patients and families have historically played in their own health care teams, as well as in ongoing quality improvement and care delivery efforts. PFEC also represents an important shift from focusing solely on care processes to aligning those processes to best address the health outcomes that matter to patients. In a culture of PFEC, patients are not merely subjects of their care; they are active participants whose voices are honored. Family and/or care partners are not kept an arm’s length away as spectators, but participate as integral members of their loved one’s care team. Individuals’ (and their families’) expertise about their bodies, lifestyles, and priorities is incorporated into care planning and their care experience is valued and incorporated into improvement efforts.

One of the greatest values of the Paper is its synthesis of a Guiding Framework.  This provides a way both to understand how change can be made to happen, and a structure in which the research in support of the change to patient engagement can be organized.  In other words, the paper is highly ambitious.  It tries to create a theory of change, and then look at the state of the research assessing each of the elements in that theory.  Moreoer, it is careful to include in the inventory and analysis a broad range of studies, not just the most formally structured ones.  Such a document obviously will have huge impact and multiple roles going forward.  Here, in one graphic, is the entire Framework.  (This copy has the citation embedded on it, for appropriate sharing.)patient-and-family-engaged-care-a-guiding-framework

I have to admit that the first time I looked at the above Framework I had some difficulty grasping its overall structure.  But, actually, it is quiet simple.  Basically, the idea of the flow for a strategy for change, from left to right, is that:

  • The Organizational Foundations for cultural change are Leadership, and certain levers such as Assessment and Change Champions;
  • That the Strategic Inputs into culture change are Structures, Practices, Skills and Awareness Building, and Connections;
  • That the Practice Outputs sought are Better Engagement, Experience, Decisions and Processes;
  • and that the Engagement Outcomes (meaning I think the outcomes that are sought to be the final product of the engagement culture) are Better Culture, Lower Costs, Better Care, and Better Health.

In other words, you need what is on the far left, to do what is in the column to the right of that one, and so on.  Obviously, the real world is more complicated, and the arrows at the top attempt both to emphasize the direction of the logic and to capture some of that nuance.

What the Paper then does is for each of the areas and elements summarize the research in support of the impact and role of that element in the overall framework.  So, for example, Outcomes are discussed at pages 5-8, Foundations at pages 8-9, Strategic Inputs at 9-15, and Practice Outputs at 15-17.  There are examples of successful innovations falling into each of the elements throughout the text.

Based on this breakdown, the Paper then identifies those areas for which the research evidence is solid, as follows:

Within the strategic inputs section, there is a well- established research base for environmental features in support of PFEC. This evidence supports the need for a physical environment that increases family presence (Choi and Bosch, 2012), improves communication (Ajiboye et al., 2015; Rippin et al., 2015), improves sleep and relaxation (Bartick et al., 2009; Bauer et al., 2015), and may help reduce infection (Biddiss et al., 2013). See Box 9. Krumholz’s work (2013), however, demonstrates that the creation of a healing environment requires more than environmental enhancements; it also requires the reengineering of care patterns and systems that have been part of business as usual for years in health care, but that may potentially be compromising the well-being of patients precisely at times when we are trying to get them well. This work posits that by proactively addressing common environmental stimuli (like alarms, light exposure, etc.) and psychological stimuli (like forced fasting, pain, anxiety, and uncertainty), hospitalized patients’ physical and mental well-being will be better, which will result in a positive impact on their symptoms, function, and quality of life.

A number of studies were identified in support of the practices section of the framework. In particular, organizations embarking on the implementation of practices to facilitate shared decision making (Arterburn et al., 2012; Barry et al., 2008; Bozic et al., 2013; Elwyn et al., 2012; Ibrahim et al., 2013; Stacey et al., 2014; Tai-Seale et al., 2016; Vero et al., 2013), family presence and involvement (Coleman et al., 2006, 2015; Luttik et al., 2005; Meyers et al., 2000; Rosland and Piette, 2010; Rosland et al., 2011), advance care planning (ElJawahri et al., 2010; Volandes et al., 2013), and compassion in action (Del Canale et al., 2012; Hojat et al., 2011; McClelland et al., 2016; Mc- Clelland and Vogus, 2014; Rakel et al., 2011) can do so supported by research suggesting the potential of these strategies to drive improvements in outcomes. Pairing these scientific studies with practical implementation resources will be an important strategy for responding to two common sources of delay when it comes to PFEC implementation: the dual questions of Why do it? and How to do it?

Finally, the evidence in support of training to expand partnership capabilities of health care personnel suggests this as an important area of emphasis when building a culture of PFEC. Training in empathy, communication, and patient education emerged with a strong basis in empirical evidence (Atwood et al., 2016; Phillips et al., 2014; Riess et al., 2012; Tai-Seale et al., 2016; Wexler et al., 2015).

An Appendix provides cross references to research in support of each of the elements (pages 30-31).

Perhaps even more important for the future, the Paper also identifies those areas in which the research foundation is less solid:

The corollary area of emphasis—training to expand partnership capabilities of patients and families—is not as well supported. Logically, philosophically, and conceptually it seems apparent that we cannot rely on patients and families to inherently have the capacity to actively participate in their care in a system that was designed without them, and that they need support to build that skill set. However, evidence is lacking to back up this common sense assertion. Furthermore, despite the evidence supporting clinical training in ef- fective communication strategies to engage people to participate in decisions about their care, gaps persist around how to efectively engage patients and families to inform care delivery and design.

This research gap naturally extends into the connection-building activities in the framework, with only a few studies identified in this preliminary review to demonstrate the impact of such efforts to bridge the divide between how health care professionals are prepared to interact with patients and family caregivers in a way that supports their involvement and how the latter are prepared to engage.

In addition two other areas of particular need were identified, the impact of structures that specifically promote openness and participation among patients and caregivers and the relation of connection-to-purpose inputs, i.e. the impact on team members of their experiences of participation on the actual outcomes.  Moreover, the Paper notes that research on patient engagement in research (which I have blogged about, also here) is in the very early stages.

Finally and most importantly, the Paper as a whole very effectively makes the case for the solidity of the research support for patient engagement (or patient partnering, as I prefer to call it,) and the Paper can and should be cited for that proposition at both the general and detailed levels.

I will be thinking more about the multiple ways that this Paper and the research behind it can be used by varied stakeholders, and look forward to sharing those thoughts.  I, and I am sure the authors, would welcome such feedback.

This should be seen as a movement, not a funding initiative, and this step will prove important in creating the intellectual structure that will ensure its ongoing viability and success, regardless of the short term environment.

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