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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Figuring Out the Subtleties of Using Statistics in Serious Illness Discussions

It seems to me that one of  the hardest things about serious illness discussions for the patient-professional team is figuring out how to think and talk about statistics.

This weekend I have been struggling to understand an article in the New York Times about this, headlined, I Had a 9 Percent Chance. Plus Hope.  The paragraph below  is, for me, the hardest to understand:

My surgeon refused to predict my future and told me to ignore my survival odds, which were a low 9 percent. He pointed out a cognitive error that people make when looking at statistics. If you survive, he reminded me, you’ll survive 100 percent. No one survives 9 percent. No one is 9 percent dead.

The numbers that matter are 0 and 100, dead or alive. To make an analogy to a commonly cited statistic, 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. There’s a part of the brain that therefore mistakenly believes all marriages experience 50 percent worth of divorce, making that number seem relevant to all couples, when it isn’t. For the happy couples, it is irrelevant. That meant that if I survived, it wouldn’t matter, looking back, whether I’d beaten chances of 9 or 19 or 90 percent.

I really did not understand.  What is the “cognitive error” here?

My family tried to explain by telling me that there is a difference between the use of statistics in making decisions about treatments, money, etc., and their use in living once the decisions are made.  While it makes all the sense in the world to know and use statistics to decide whether to use one or another treatment, or indeed whether a treatment attempt is best chosen or rejected, much of living that then happens does so without a focus on the survival numbers, it was suggested.  Or rather the family thought that that was what the writer was saying.

At first I found the distinction both persuasive and helpful.  And I certainly agree that numbers play very different roles in different situations and for different people.

But the more I thought about it, the less this makes overall sense.  As someone with an four to five year life expectancy because of bone marrow cancer, every experience in life, as well as every decision I make, is colored by that knowledge.  Its not just that it influences a decision abut whether oral surgery is worth the time disruption, effort and pain.  It influences my feelings about family holidays, seeing friends, and even politics, to put those in the context of a timeline and life expectation.  How can it not.

To put it another way, following the construct in the article, if your survival expectation is 100%, then each event is lived with that awareness and has a particular nuance.  If it is 0%, then it has a very different nuance.  Most importantly, if it is 50%, or any number between 0 and 100 then each event has bits of both sensibilities with an awareness of every possibility.

For me, at least, the only way I can live with the reality of constant risks of sudden change points, particularly when tests are done, and with knowledge that there will be inevitable bad news sometime, is to not to always find good or bad news with each test.  That only puts you on an emotional roller coaster.  I try to see it as a long process with gently smoothed ups and downs, gliding in the end, as with all roller coasters, down to a hopefully gentle stop.  For me, being aware of the stats, and of how they move for me, helps smooth the process out.  When there is potentially bad news, well, we knew that would come in the end.  When there is good news, well, that’s only for a time.

Most generally, I do conclude that different patients want, need, and can use very different information.  The doctor has to be able to figure out what will truly help the patient, and how to give it.  That may or may not be identical to the patients initial articulation.  On the contrary, the patient’s statement may be driven by a very different fear than that of actual knowledge about what is likely to come.  While the professional must respect and engage with the patient’s articulation of what and how they want to know, they have to recognize that that choice might change after honest joint exploration.

Do We Need Specialists Within Specialties Focused On Particular Life Goals For Those Dealing With Serious Illnesses?

Here is an idea.

Particularly with long term diseases, the treatments chosen and needed may well very significantly by values and life choices.  For example, there is the dimension of pain versus awareness and communication capacity.  There is the dimension of quality of life versus quantity of life.

Moreover, as we get to understand the choices we have to make, the question of what would provide quality starts to become more and more nuanced, regardless indeed of where they put themselves on the quality/quantity continuum.

For example, for one one person it might mean staying physically active for a long time.  For another it might mean being mentally active.  For another staying emotionally connected.  For yet another being productive (getting things finished.)  For another it might mean being happy.

As of now, those specializing in serious diseases are better and better at finding our what people want.  And specific disease experts are getting better and better at treating particular problems.

But since some people with, for example, a potentially painful cancer care most about staying active physically, and others about being intellectually productive, maybe they need different treatments, and perhaps, as the science develops, different experts with different knowledge and connection to emerging research.  (To a certain extent, the development of an expertise in palliative care is a recognition of these insights, although to the general public, that is generally associated with pain, rather than other goals.)

Similarly, for one person with Parkinson’s, the goal might be to be able to keep writing.  For another it might be keeping out of pain.  Again not only might the treatment need to  be different, but so ultimately might be the needed expertise.

I realize that creating such new kinds of specialists runs the risk of an ever greater fragmentation of care.  But surely the right way to think of this is to realize that as the risk of fragmentation becomes greater — as it will in any event — the need for coordination, navigation, management, and communication becomes greater.  That problem has to be solved anyway.

Moreover, at the risk of restating the obvious, the patient partner team approach helps guarantee that the patient articulates and communicates what they want — and then gets it.