MM Newly Diagnosed Archives

Your Multiple Myeloma diagnosis is just a starting point. Even though the path ahead may seem unclear or even insurmountable, armed with knowledge you can take control.

Let us help you become empowered to understand your diagnosis, to confidently ask questions, and to identify providers that are the best fit for you.

More resources for Multiple Myeloma Newly Diagnosed from Patient Empowerment Network.

Advice For Newly Diagnosed Patients #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an Empowered #patientchat on advice for newly diagnosed patients. The #patientchat community came together and shared their best advice and tips.

The Top Tweets and Advice…


Ask Questions





Seek a Second Opinion





Stay Informed

Full Chat

Finding Your Voice #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an Empowered #patientchat on finding your voice and what stops patients from seeking a second opinion.

A second opinion is crucial to prevent misdiagnosis or unnecessary procedures or surgeries. A study done by Mayo Clinic showed that as many as 88% of patients who get a second opinion go home with a new or refined diagnosis. That shows that only 12% of patients receive confirmation that their original diagnosis was complete and correct. Still, a lot of patients never get second opinions. So, we wanted to chat about this and see what the Empowered #patientchat community had to say, and these were the main takeaways:

The Top Tweets…

























Full Chat

Finding the Funny When the Diagnosis Isn’t

It’s not easy hearing your name and [insert dread diagnosis here]. I know this only too well after having to find the funny in my own journey through cancer. Cancer is, however, most often a diagnosis that you fight to a defined end. What’s it like to find the funny in a chronic condition like multiple sclerosis, or HIV, or diabetes?

I have a number of friends dealing with the life-long aftermath of an MS diagnosis. One of them tipped me off to Jim Sweeney several years ago. Jim’s MS journey started with vision problems in 1985, he was officially diagnosed in 1990, and has been wrestling with the impact of that diagnosis – finding the funny most of the time – ever since. Jim’s body of work includes decades of live improv, and his one-man show “My MS & Me,” which you can hear on the BBC Radio 1 site. His MS has progressed to the point that he’s now in a wheelchair, and his public presence is mostly limited to Twitter, where his profile says he “can’t complain but sometimes do,” and YouTube.

Some other sterling examples of funny-or-die in managing chronic disease are Mark S. King’s fabulously funny My Fabulous Disease blog. Mark is HIV+, so he shares information, resources, and myth-busting about all things HIV in his posts and videos. He’s brutally honest about pretty much everything, with plenty of humor to soften the impact of what it’s really like to live with what anti-retroviral treatments have made a chronic illness, not the death sentence it too often was in the first two decades after the viral epidemic started in 1980.

Then there’s the “laugh out loud at the absurdity” Six Until Me site from Kerri Marrone Sparling, who writes about her life as a Type 1 diabetic. She covers everything from exceedingly random TSA security agent behavior when confronted with diabetes-related medical devices, to “pregnant while diabetic” to dealing with the emotional impact of living with a busted pancreas, all with a good dose of highly-readable snark.

How much courage does it take to laugh out loud, in public, at an incurable disease? Jim, and Mark, and Kerri certainly have courage – and comedy chops! – at the level required.

On the provider side, there are a number of docs who are breaking up the waiting rooms and wards.

The most visible of these comedic clinicians is Dr. Zubin Damania, a/k/a ZDoggMD  – “Slightly Funnier Than Placebo” was his tagline for years, before he shifted to “The Voice of Health 3.0.” ZDogg is a hospital medicine specialist who’s built an empire of snark over the last decade plus, some G-rated and some most definitely NSFW. His videos alone guarantee hours of laughter, and he’s one of the best users of Facebook Live around.

I’ve even found a scholarly article entitled The Use of Humor to Promote Patient Centered Care – be warned, though, that (1) it’s a “scholarly article,” meaning that it’s had all the laughs surgically removed and (2) they want $42.50 for it. You have been warned.

What’s my point here? I actually have two:

1. Laughter really is the best medicine.

Humor keeps us in touch with our humanity, and – unless it’s insult comedy, which I do not recommend in the health care arena, unless it’s insulting bad health care – it helps to comfort others in the same situation.

2. Patients and providers need to work together to help each other find the funny.

If you’re a doctor, don’t just say “you’ve got [insert dread diagnosis here], here’s the treatment plan, call if you have any questions, … NEXT!” Look your patients in the eye, and channel your inner comedian whenever it’s appropriate. If you’re a patient, connect with other people in your situation and see how they’re finding the funny. And help your doctors find their funny. If they can’t find it, you should find another doctor.

We all need to work together to break each other up. Laughter can comfort, can calm, it can even heal.

That’s real disruptive health care, no prescription required.

How Can Patients Learn About New Myeloma Treatments?

Living Well with Multiple Myeloma

How Can Patients Learn About New Myeloma Treatments? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Downloadable Program Guide

Getting the right cancer care calls for sound, up-to-date information and open dialogue with your healthcare team. As a patient, how do I stay informed about new treatments in development for multiple myeloma? What are the considerations when choosing treatment that’s right for me? In this video, experts will help you better understand the latest multiple myeloma treatments for patients who are actively seeking the best care available.


Jack Aiello:
Hello and welcome. Thanks for joining today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. We thank AbbVie Incorporated, Celgene Incorporation and Takeda Oncology for their ongoing support.

We have a lot to cover, and we’re so happy that you joined us. My name is Jack Aiello, and I am a 23‑year survivor, myeloma survivor, this is. I learned that getting the right cancer care calls for sound, up‑to‑date information and an open dialogue with your healthcare team.

Some questions to ponder as a patient: How can I stay informed about new treatments in development for multiple myeloma? What are the considerations when choosing treatment that’s right for me?

We have already received a number of your questions today, and we’ll get to some of those answers, but first I’m really pleased to introduce our distinguished guests. Dr. Amrita Krishnan is an M.D. She’s the director of the Judy and Bernard Briskin Myeloma Center. She’s a professor of hematology and hematopoietic cell transplantation at the City of Hope. Dr. Joshua Richter is the assistant proper of medicine at the division of hematology medical oncology at the Tisch Cancer Institute of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. And Kristen Carter is the advanced practice nurse at the University of Arkansas Myeloma Center.

Before we begin answering and addressing some of the questions, I want to make sure you are aware that this webinar is not a substitute for medical advice. You really need to refer to your medical healthcare team. And if you have questions during this webinar you can e‑mail them to, and we will try to get to as many of those as possible.

I mentioned I was a 23‑year survivor. I was diagnosed in 1995, and back then treatment decisions were pretty easy because there weren’t many treatments. Either you took melphalan prednisone, a couple of pills, or you went the transplant route, which I ended up doing. I’ve learned an awful lot in 23 years. I facilitate our local Bay Area myeloma support group, and so the questions I’ve seen you already asking today and the questions we’ll be asking our doctors are the same questions that are asked in our support groups as well. So let me begin.

The first question has to do with‑‑we hear about new drugs that are out there that have recently been approved, but how do I learn about drug approvals? What’s the process for approving a new therapy, and should I attend as a patient these medical conventions I hear about like ASH or ASCO, and if not, how do I learn about these new drugs?

Dr. Krishnan:
Yeah, I think people are welcome to attend meetings such as ASCO, but you know there are 30,000 people there and so it’s a fairly overwhelming experience, and it’s very hard to drill down. And, to be frank, a lot of what gets‑‑the mix of what gets presented at most of the national meetings in regard to very, very early‑stage drugs that are only available in clinical trials. And then, yes, we do have Phase 3s that are randomized trials presented where drugs are pretty much ready to be approved or already approved and that’s confirmatory data for those drugs. So it’s a big mix.

I think, you know, for patients in terms of getting the most sort of bang for their buck is sort of doing things like you’re already doing such as the seminar you’re hosting right now I think is invaluable because it really helps drill down all the data for those meetings. And some of the other patient education forums I think are‑‑again because I think we’re happy, we’re always happy to speak at those types of events to help sort of synthesize that data in a more kind of (?) coherent, how‑can‑I‑help‑you forum.

Jack Aiello:
Any additional thoughts on that, Dr. Richter?

Dr. Richter:
Absolutely. I think that the patient support groups from different programs run by the MMRS and the IMF as well as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society are extremely helpful. There are many of these programs, and if you go to these organizations’ websites there are frequently programs that may be near where patients are.

The other thing that I think is key as part of a patient’s and their caregiver’s myeloma journey is at some point during your treatment it’s really worthwhile to come to a center such as the people represented here. You know, University of Arkansas and City of Hope and Mount Sinai are all extremely advanced in terms of their myeloma knowledge, but there are many others across this country. And I think as patients it’s important to have a deep connection with your care team, and you can still receive all the care with your local team, but at least one point during your journey going to one of the centers like the ones on today’s panelists I think is worthwhile to find out what is on the horizon and how they can work with your local physician and nurse practitioner team to form the best plan for you.

Jack Aiello:
One thing I’ll add on to what you said about the information provided by organizations like the International Myeloma Foundation, like PEN empowerment network, like the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation is that they have videos and webinars very quickly after ASCO or ASH meetings that will summarize what the major outcomes were at those meetings. And they are intended for patients, and they really are excellent, excellent vehicles for learning.

Kristen Carter, so I have a question targeted for nurses, I think, and that is as a patient how do I communicate or partner best with my doctor on treatment decisions? What do you find that works regarding being diagnosed with something called myeloma, which you’ve probably never heard of, hearing all of these overwhelming terms of IgG and too high a level of protein, which sounded always good to me, how do you‑‑how should patients be interfacing with both their doctors and their nurses?

Kristen Carter:
Well, all my patients have my cell phone number so they tend to call me if they have any questions, but I always tell my patients make sure you write down questions because you know as well as I, when you get in there in front of a doctor who’s got a whole list of patients for the day and they’re seeing you, they’re giving you all this information, and I always call it the deer in the headlight look from the patient because they’re brand new. Writing down questions that you think of is always very important.

Having a family member that’s right there with you, that maybe they’re thinking of things that you haven’t really thought to ask. As we’re going over side effects and treatment decisions, taking notes is very important because I always have patients, and I will have patients four or five years later, go, remind me, what is my subtype. And we go over this every time and you go, I thought we were doing a really good job of educating. So if you don’t understand something ask to repeat the information. And I always repeated back to the patients and have them repeat it back to me. That way I can see if they really understand what we’ve gone over.

And just make sure there’s an open dialogue. I always tell my patients don’t suffer in silence. If you have a side effect we need to know about it. If there’s something you don’t understand we need to know because that way we can ensure that you’re not only understanding but getting appropriate treatment, and if there’s side effects that we need to know that we can make adjustments.

Jack Aiello:
The doctors especially seem very busy and sometimes in a little bit more of a hurry than you as a patient want them to because it’s difficult for you to absorb the information that they are providing you. How do I slow them down? How do I make sure that I do understand what they are saying, Kristen?

Kristen Carter:
Having a list I think is a really good way to slow down.

Jack Aiello:
I agree.

Kristen Carter:
I have patients that come in and they’ll have their list, and I usually go in first. So I work for Dr. Van Rhee, and we have‑‑we manage, actively manage about 700 myeloma patients from all over the country. And so these patients will come in sometimes a thousand miles to see us. We don’t want them to be shortchanged on their time because they’ve travelled all the way from Arkansas, and they’ve done all the workups, and we certainly don’t want them to feel like they didn’t get the time after spending money and travel time to get to our academic center. So usually I will go in first and answer any questions that I can answer, and the list is always so important. And we’ll say, sit back down, we have the list, and what I can’t answer the doctor will answer.

And again I do provide an e‑mail or a cell phone, and I have patients that will e‑mail me a list of questions that I can turn around and answer for them if they didn’t get the information. So I think definitely having a list, having family support if it’s available to come with you, I think that does kind of slow the doctor down.

And if you don’t understand something you just stop the doctor before they leave the room. Hey, I didn’t understand that. You are your own patient advocate, and you’ve got to make sure that you speak up if there’s something you don’t understand or if there’s something you’re not sure about. Or if there’s something you’re not comfortable with in the treatment planning you need to vocalize that with your doctor or nurse.

Jack Aiello:
Dr. Krishnan or Dr. Richter, any other things that patients have done when you meet with them that you want to pass along to patients on this call?

Dr. Krishnan:
I think the one thing to be honest I’ve started writing down stuff that the patient said myself because a lot of patients start getting focused on taking notes, and they don’t want to miss anything, but then it’s very hard to absorb and take notes at the same time. So having someone with you to be your scribe is very helpful. Some doctors, you know, don’t mind patients recording them. Some are less comfortable with that. So that’s something else you can consider is asking your doctor if that’s an option.

I think the other important thing to remember is all the information we get, especially when we talk about transplant, that’s not going to be the first time you hear it, so don’t‑‑it’s not like you need to understand it all right now. This is just information gathering, and that information is going to be repeated again and again by multiple different people.

Jack Aiello:
And Dr. Richter?

Dr. Richter:
I think everything that’s been pointed out is great. I would encourage patients that if they want to record to ask first. We’ve definitely had some patients where all of a sudden their purse starts beeping and I ask what that is, and they say, oh, I’ve been recording you. I have no problem, and most of us don’t as long as we’re told about.

I think it’s also‑‑as much as the care teams set goals for each appointment it oftentimes can be a good idea for patients to set goals of what they want to get out of the appointment. So not every appointment is going to be soup to nuts, everything from the diagnosis to the whole treatment, but this appointment, what is going to be my next step with treatment and how do I deal with my toxicity. This next appointment I want to find out about transplants. So setting a couple of discrete goals I think really helps both sides to accomplish what we need to.

Jack Aiello:
Yeah, I agree. Dr. Richter, you brought up some of the resources earlier. I don’t know, when I was diagnosed in ’95, back then we weren’t sure if the internet was even going to be a success, so resources were quite limited. What do you find patients today using, and how do you‑‑you know, some doctors, patients will tell me, will say stay off the internet, don’t go there, and that’s not the right answer. So how do you advise patients today about that?

Dr. Richter:
So I think that this is something that we can’t avoid. It’s definitely a double‑edged sword. What I always encourage patients when we talk about different things is I direct them to certain sites that I know have vetted information that’s been created by the myeloma community, and it’s very accurate and realistic. So sites from the and the MMRF, Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation I found to be very important, and both of these organizations have handouts that we often give patients to augment things.

One of the other resources that I‑‑you know, is definitely another double‑edged sword, is And I even hesitate to mention this, but I think it’s a valuable resource. I think as patients with myeloma are extremely savvy and oftentimes come in knowing data even before I’ve even heard it. It’s quite amazing. The benefit of is it lists all of the trials that are done in all of these institutions. It provides some overview about it, about whatever the trial is, some information as far as who may or may not be eligible, and it lists the institutions and sites that are running the trial with contact information.

So I think one of the benefits there is that people start hearing about all of these different trials on sites like myelomacrowd, LLS, MMRF, and if you’re interested in seeing if there’s an institution by you it’s a great way to drill down and find out the closest institution and a contact that may get you the right place.

Jack Aiello:
There are some good front ends for as well. Something called SparkCures, S‑P‑A‑R‑K cures. Something called the myeloma matrix from the IMF. Something called Smart Patients. And there are also organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, like the IMF and MMRF who have clinical trial specialists that you can talk with, that given your situations they will help you to direct you to the right clinical trial as opposed to starting off with So, I agree.

Same question for Dr. Krishnan.

Dr. Krishnan:
I think‑‑

Jack Aiello:
Resources that you have found particularly useful to provide to your patients.

Dr. Krishnan:
I think actually Dr. Richter pretty much covered them in terms of the IMF, the MMRF and what you have added to it actually. I learned some more resources too, so thank you guys.

Jack Aiello:
And same question for Kristen Carter.

Kristen Carter:
I always tell my patients to go to reliable resource sites like the IMF and the MMRF because I definitely have had patients call me later. I had a patient that was looking up fatigue in myeloma and he called me, and he goes, you didn’t tell me that I was only going to live five years, because he looked on the internet and it said five‑year survival is 48 percent at that time. He’s nine years in complete remission at this point, but I had to talk him off the ledge because he had been on the internet and he had read that, and after we had already gone over kind of the statistics and things and his individual myeloma. I said don’t worry. Don’t look at those statistics. Let’s worry about you.

So definitely, like Dr. Richter said, go to resource sites that are reliable, like you said. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, IMF, MMRF, those are the reliable sites to go to.

Jack Aiello:
For those listening, don’t forget you can e‑mail us questions at

Doctors Krishnan and Richter, let me ask you another question. In June it’s always a big month, ASCO happens, the clinical oncology conference in Europe they have something similar, EHA. Can you give us some insights? I’ll start with Dr. Krishnan. What were some of the highlights that came out of those large cancer conferences for myeloma patients?

Dr. Krishnan:
Sure. So I had the honor of giving the ASCO highlights actually at ASCO. It was 7 a.m. Sunday morning, and surprisingly we had a full house, which tells you the interest in myeloma. So the highlights in that session were really focused around relapsed myeloma, not surprisingly. So combinations of venetoclax, the drug approved for CLL, using it combination with carfilzomib, proteasome inhibitor, so we know venetoclax work the best when it is combined with proteasome inhibitor. Most of the data we’ve had so far has been with bortezomib, so this was the first trial presenting the data with carfilzomib, and that included patients who have had prior bortezomib or who were bortezomib refractory. So that was exciting.

Jack Aiello:
Just to clarify, if patients aren’t aware, Velcade is the same thing as bortezomib.

Kristen Carter:
Thank you.

Jack Aiello:

Kristen Carter:
You know, the caveat in that trial was that patients had to be carfilzomib naive, so, you know, we clearly don’t know when patients have had prior carfilzomib exposure if they received the same degree of response, but the response rates were very high, and patients who had a particular translocation that venetoclax targets, the (11;14) translocation, the response rate was 100 percent. Again, these are small numbers of patients, but it is interesting data both in regards to the targeted therapy as well as in the idea that we can combine venetoclax with different agents.

The other thing I would highlight was the CAR T‑cell data, which I think of huge interest to patients. This is now an expansion cohort. So the initial data we saw was in about 20 patients. Now we have data‑‑it’s still not huge numbers, 40 patients, but what we did see was that the response rates remain very high, about an 80 percent response rate.

We learned some interesting things that previous trials and the CAR‑T in this construct, the Bluebird trial, targeted BCMA. And the initial phase of the trial required that the patient have a certain amount of BCMA expression on their plasma cells. And that was actually a hard target to get. Some patients were excluded. What we learned in the expansion phase is that the percent of BCMA expression on the myeloma cells really didn’t matter in terms of response. And that as an (?) Inaudible criteria is no longer an issue moving forward.

We learned that the cell dose of T‑cells infused matters in terms of response, that there is a certain minimal threshold of T‑cells needed. And we also did learn in terms of toxicity signals that we do see cytokine release. Fortunately in the majority of patients it’s been mild. I would think those are the two biggest highlights.

And the other one I wanted to briefly touch upon was the study looking at weekly carfilzomib. So it looked at weekly compared to a traditional carfilzomib schedule, and showed that a weekly higher dose was tolerated well. Interestingly, we actually saw a better progression‑free survival in the patients receiving weekly compared to the twice a week. I haven’t drilled down enough yet in that trial to know is that because of toxicity, or what are the reasons, but it just shows us that you can give weekly higher dose carfilzomib.

Jack Aiello:
And, Dr. Richter, do you want to follow‑up on any of those?

Dr. Richter:
So those were absolutely the big highlights. Everyone is very excited about the potential for CAR‑Ts and myeloma.

The other studies that I would high rights that came out of EHA and ASCO this year focused on combination therapies. It is still a goal if we can in patients to put them on multi‑drug combinations using multiple different mechanisms of action to treat the different types of subclones within the disease. So there has been data recently on three‑ and four‑drug combinations and how they may benefit patients.

So the combination of elotuzumab, pomalidomide and dexamethasone, the data was presented at EHA and was very encouraging as a really great option for patients with relapsed myeloma as well as that same combination, elotuzumab, pomalidomide and dexamethasone with bortezomib added to that. A four‑drug combination, but again in the right population this can be both tolerated and efficacious, as well as the three‑drug combination of Velcade, pomalidomide and dexamethasone.

And I know a lot of this may seem like, you know, they used to call it word salad where you’re just mixing up different letters and combination and it doesn’t all make sense, but that’s part of what our collective job here is to look at all the different options and all the data and drill that on what the exact correct regimen is for an individual patient. For some patients four or three drugs may be too many and two drugs may be appropriate, but in the right patients we may need to combine three or even four drugs to get the response needed.

Jack Aiello:
Can you say a little bit more about what makes the right patient for the right drug combination?

Dr. Richter:
So I think that’s‑‑there’s three different factors. There is treatment factors, disease factors and host factors that we take into account.

Treatment factors means have we given a previous line of therapy and did it cause toxicity. So if we’ve given drug A and the patient had horrible neuropathy I would not utilize that drug and may think twice about drugs that are similar. Host factors are things such as the patient’s age, their frailty, other co‑morbidities that they have that may affect the choice of drugs that we give. And disease factors are crucial. How quickly is the disease progressing? Is it taking other forms such as forming tumors such as plasma cytomas? Is it involving other areas of the body?

And as Dr. Krishnan pointed out, we’re starting to understand that certain drugs may have better efficacy in certain subgroups of patients. So for example venetoclax in patients with that (11;14) translocation or something called Bcl‑2 overexpression, we may utilize a drug like that in a patient earlier rather than later because that‑‑realistically, they’ll have a higher response rate.

Jack Aiello:
Thank you. We have a question from a caller named Mona who is a myeloma patient and did an allotransplant. Kristen, I’m going to ask you this question. She did an allotransplant in 2012. She’s been on Revlimid maintenance now for six years, and she’s a university instructor and leads a very active working life. Her question, though, has to do with does she take‑‑and this will be actually for all of you‑‑do I take‑‑in fact, let me ask this of Dr. Krishnan. Do I take Revlimid, continue to take Revlimid indefinitely, or is there a time when I can actually stop taking it?

Dr. Krishnan:
So the allo setting is a little bit different and because we really have no large trials. The only trial we have using‑‑two trials using Revlimid after allotransplant, one in the US, one in Europe, it was actually quite a challenge. A lot of patients developed graft‑versus‑host disease, so really only a minority of patients were able to tolerate it, and to say on it for as long as she has is actually quite impressive. So, honestly, in her case we don’t have any clear recommendation.

In the autologous setting we have differences right now. We do have‑‑

Jack Aiello:
I misspoke. Hers was an autologous transplant. I’m sorry.

Dr. Krishnan:
Okay. In the autologous setting we have the US approach which was based on the CALGB CTN trial, which randomized patients after transplants or observation or to lenalidomide indefinitely unless they developed toxicity or the myeloma progressed.

The French had a trial that actually started out with the same idea, indefinite lenalidomide. They ended up abrogating it because of their concerns for toxicity. The patients in that study had about 18 months of lenalidomide.

And then lastly there’s a big trial that’s going on right now that the IFM Dana‑Farber trial that in this French part patient after transplant might get lenalidomide only for a year. The US part patients get lenalidomide indefinitely, so it tells you that, you know, we can’t really‑‑don’t know and we can’t agree.

The last point I would say is a trial, which you’re very familiar with, Jack‑‑you’ve been hugely instrumental in getting it off the ground, is trying to answer that very question which is (?) Inaudible transplant get randomized to lenalidomide or lenalidomide and daratumumab, and then after two years if they’re MRD negative, so really looking very, very deeply at their myeloma, patients will have a second randomization, so a group of patients both stop therapy, so that will answer the question can you stop therapy if you’ve had a very, very good response.

Jack Aiello:
Kristen, I know you have lots of patients that come from really all over the world to the University of Arkansas there. There is a patient named Renee who is South African who says, I don’t have access to many of the newer myeloma medicines, and I wonder if there are assistance programs out there to remedy this. Are you familiar with being able to help someone like that?

Kristen Carter:
We have actually had several patients that this is a big issue with. I have a guy that is from Trinidad and he can’t get a lot of the medications there. And I have someone from the Bahamas saying they have a lifetime cap on their insurance, and then that becomes a big problem especially assess to medications in other countries. We actually have had people fly in to get medications and fly out, and we were actually able to get it through patient assistance here in the United States, but not everybody has the means to do that.

Jack Aiello:

Kristen Carter:
And so‑‑I mean, it is a big issue. I mean, even to try to get Revlimid in some areas or Velcade in some areas, it’s just not on their protocol in that country. And even here in the US dealing with the VA and certain places like that where different combinations have to be approved before they can get that. So that’s always a challenge, is access to medication and different regimens that may not be approved overseas, Canada, the Bahamas. European countries still are not utilizing the medications. So we’re very fortunate to live in the United States and have the access to the different combinations that we have here.

Jack Aiello:
Do any of you hear patients who have those problems trying to access generics, and do you have any feeling for whether that’s a good idea or not?

Dr. Richter:
I think it’s a difficult thing to ask because unfortunately there are well known disparities in terms of access to care within this country and in other countries, and a lot of the patient advocacy groups are trying to do what they can to help a lot of these patients. In terms of what patients ought to do if they can get access, I think it depends on the source. There’s obviously some legitimate channels that people can utilize to try to get access to drugs that may not be readily available.

Obviously, in the day and age we’re in I think there are some probably shadier ways people can get drugs, and it will be unclear how real they are. So I think that if you have access to any of these things it is probably best to bring them to a pharmacist to evaluate to ensure that if you are able to get these drugs from some other means other than the purely legitimate routes that you are taking the correct things and nothing that’s dangerous.

Jack Aiello:
There were a couple of maintenance questions that came in, and I’ll try to summarize them. David asked, rather than starting maintenance at 10 milligrams or 10 milligrams every other day of Revlimid, why not start at a lower dose, you know, two and a half or five milligrams or no treatment. And maybe you do that when you look at someone’s age and quality of life. And another person, Greg, just is flat‑out asking what is the best maintenance therapy to remain cancer‑free.

So, Dr. Krishnan, can you talk about how do you recommend maintenance treatment?

Dr. Krishnan:
Some of it is (?) imperious, but we do know that there is a dose response with Revlimid because we do see patients who, for example, were on maintenance at a lower dose and their M spike starts trending up, we increase the dose and we do see a gap but sometimes patients respond. So the dose that was picked was sort of a balance of trying to get a fairly active dose but understanding toxicity.

In newly diagnosed patients we use 25 milligrams, but in the maintenance setting we use 10 to 15 milligrams understanding there’s more hematologic toxicity after stem cell transplant so it would be hard for patients to stay on 25 milligrams for any length of time. So I think we’ve tried to balance that in our sort of initial recommendations for the starting doses of maintenance therapy.

In regards to the question what’s the best maintenance, I mean, that’s a great question and the answers still remain unknown. We just saw a press release from Takeda about ixazomib. We don’t have any details yet, but that it’s the oral proteasome inhibitor compared to placebo after transplant improved progression‑free survival. Again, don’t know anything yet about those patients within a certain subgroup, how big a benefit was it. So we’ll all waiting for the ASH meeting this year to hear that. But, again, it speaks to the question what is the best maintenance, and we’ll continue as we get new drugs study them both in relapsed, up front and in maintenance.

Jack Aiello:
Dr. Richter, as patients, though, get older and look at that quality‑of‑life issue, how do you adjust maintenance dosages, or do you decide maybe they shouldn’t go on maintenance?

Dr. Richter:
I go back to what Dr. Krishnan said which is true, which is the dose that was picked and was studied in CALGB study showed a progression‑free and overall survival, so that is our base from where to start from, but ultimately we then have to individualize from there. There are definitely patients that maintenance therapy absolutely benefits. There’s patients that unfortunately in order to provide a benefit from maintenance they have own toward toxicity, either hematologic with lowering of blood counts or other toxicities.

And on the flip side there are some patients that we feel may have higher risk disease where giving one or two drugs may not be the ideal maintenance, but there are some ongoing clinical studies looking at three drugs as a maintenance approach. And although this may seem quite extreme to some for those subset of myeloma patients with such high risk disease that we need to start enrolling in these trials to look at ways to offset their risk of having early recurrence. So I think we have what is the standard.

As Dr. Krishnan pointed out, there is the press release which we haven’t seen the hard data from yet with ixazomib, but this is going to be changing over time, and it needs to be individualized to the actual patient, their side effects, their type of disease along with the most up‑to‑date data.

Jack Aiello:
Kristen, a person named Donna from Nova Scotia asked, and I’m sure you are asked in a lot. And that is, I have severe neuropathy from Velcade. What treatments are there for severe neuropathy? And anyone can chime in, but I’m guessing you get this question.

Kristen Carter:
Yeah, that’s actually one of the most frequent questions I get. Especially when starting maintenance because we actually do do triple therapy maintenance utilizing Velcade. And the good thing is now that we have subcutaneous Velcade definitely the neuropathy is a lot less so we don’t have to worry about as much. I always tell my patients that we need to know about neuropathy before it gets grade 3. If you have grade 3 neuropathy I did not do my job.

We need to dose modify early. We need to start drugs like gabapentin or Lyrica. I’ve used Cymbalta. There’s several different ways to treat peripheral neuropathy, but the main big thing is dose modification and dose interruption if you have a grade 2 or more neuropathy. That’s when you start to need to think about dose modification. We do not want it to get to painful neuropathy and continue treatment.

And then you look at the clinical research on the newer drugs like Kyprolis or ixazomib that does have less‑‑less neuropathy associated with those drugs, so I’ve definitely used Kyprolis when someone had neuropathy with Velcade with not having further neuropathic symptoms with utilizing that drug. There’s lots of other options out there that does not have the associated neuropathy symptoms.

But the big takeaway would be let’s not let it get to grade 3 before we’re talking about neuropathy. So actually every visit, we talk about neuropathy at every visit. I ask that question at every visit, so preemptively educating the patient that these are the symptoms that you may develop, and also letting the patient know, hey, let me know if you’re having symptoms.

Jack Aiello:
Doctors Krishnan and Richter, any added insights in terms of how to fix bad neuropathy? And, by the way, if you do have any of that will definitely fix it, I will be in your office tomorrow.

Dr. Krishnan:

Dr. Richter:
I think there’s a few‑‑the number one thing that Kristen brought up, and this is literally the biggest issue, is open dialogue with your care team. That is‑‑she is 100 percent correct. It is a lot easier to prevent than to treat. Unfortunately, the drugs that we utilize do not work in everyone. The other modalities that could be tried, I’ve had some success with Cymbalta, which she mentioned, also some of the tricyclic antidepressants drugs, like amitriptyline, nortriptyline may offer some help there.

But, again, this is really all about trying to prevent it and picking the right drugs and the right dosage. There are some newer‑‑we’re starting to work on some clinical trials here for some novel approaches, but nothing as a cure‑all just yet.

Jack Aiello:
Dr. Krishnan, anything else?

Dr. Krishnan:
No, I think we’ve covered every single drug that we’ve tried for neuropathy.

Jack Aiello:
I’ve had a few patients tell me that maybe acupuncture has helped them, cocoa butter has helped them, acupressure, acupuncture, as I said. But as you say there’s nothing for everyone, and it can be really debilitating if it gets too bad.

Dr. Richter:
There’s one other‑‑and again, neuropathy can come in a variety of ways. There’s a numbness but there’s also a pain. For people who have extreme pain there are compounding pharmacies that can a make certain combinations of lidocaine and some other medications that may help numb it. The other one‑‑and I know this sounds very extreme and not all places do this‑‑there are various studies looking at compounds of ketamine. And I know this sounds crazy, ketamine, which is also known as Special K, which is used in a variety of other nonclinical settings. There’s been some conflicting studies looking at the use of ketamine in peripheral sensory neuropathy, and I’ve had a few success stories in patients with severely refractory peripheral neuropathy working together with our pain management colleagues to compound the right dosage, but it can be tricky to use.

Jack Aiello:
Okay. Want to thank people who have already sent in questions, and for those you just joining questions can be sent in to

I thought that one of the questions came in from an individual named Jack‑‑that wasn’t me, but he asked a really good question. And he said essentially I don’t understand why newly diagnosed patients are often given the standard myeloma treatment regimen called RVD, Revlimid, Velcade and dex, from the beginning. Would it not be equally or better to maybe start treatment at lower dosages to see what the initial response is and then titrate up to the higher doses if needed? And perhaps if they were just as effective this would reduce side effects and toxicity.

I know, Dr. Richter, this question interested you as well, so how do you answer that?

Dr. Richter:
Again, it’s a patient‑by‑patient basis, and although RVD is an extremely common initial therapy if you look at the MM connect data about most utilized therapies in up front patients it includes RVD, Velcade, Cytoxan, dexamethasone but it also includes a fair amount of Velcade‑dexamethasone alone or Revlimid‑dexamethasone alone in up‑front therapy.

The rationale to give more drugs up front comes from our knowledge of the biology of myeloma and that we recognize that myeloma is difficult to kill in a human being, that plasma cells are very robust, and we do have evidence that the deeper responses that we can achieve, so getting patients to a partial remission, very good partial remission and down to the levels of complete remission with MRD or minimal residual disease negativity seemed to impact overall outcome, and patients who achieve those deeper remissions tend to do better.

So that’s the reason why we tend to start these multi‑drug combinations at fair doses is to attempt to achieve those deep levels of remission because those tend to be the patients that have better outcomes. Now, this is not wholly true. There are patients who can get two drugs and do extremely well, but as we have just the data that’s out there to go on, this leads us to choose this approach.

Jack Aiello:
Yeah. Do you agree, Dr. Krishnan, I presume?

Dr. Krishnan:
I do. I do want to make one comment that it’s not that every patient gets RVD, but, I mean, frankly, our interest is not taking away drug it’s in adding more drugs because‑‑and we get high response rates and we want to actually‑‑we think that the toxicity profile is manageable for the gain you get from deepening it responses.

Jack Aiello:
Dr. Krishnan, I thought Greg asked a million‑dollar question here. After achieving remission and completing maintenance what are your best resources for options to maintain the remission and avoid relapse?

Dr. Krishnan:
I think a lot of that depends on what treatment you had originally, as Dr. Richter said, the biology of your myeloma. Some people have a more aggressive cytogenetic profile, for example, so we tend to treat them more aggressively and continuously. I think just, again, that’s a very individualized to the patient, but think the one take‑home message I would say is that myeloma is different than a lot of other cancers in the sense that we really don’t stop treating, that we continue therapy, and this concept of maintenance is very sort of germane to myeloma.

And, frankly, other diseases are starting to adopt it more now. We see in the lymphoma space more in the concept of maintenance now. And you could argue in breast cancer with hormonal therapy patients are on a drug for extended periods of time. Those are eventually stopped, so we hope in myeloma we get to be stopped, too.

Jack Aiello:
Kristen, I have had people ask me since I’ve been diagnosed a long time ago, what do I do nutrition‑wise? And I don’t ever have any good answers for that, and I’m sure you’re asked that question. Do you have any good answers for nutrition to help benefit myeloma patients?

Kristen Carter:
I tend to be‑‑I like to look at the whole body. I’m definitely a person that adopts a very clean diet and exercise program myself personally, and so I think that nutrition makes a huge difference just in everyday life. Now, do we recommend an alkaline diet and a ketogenic‑based diet? Absolutely not. If you want to do that, we’re welcome to let you do whatever you feel comfortable, but I do tell patients that it’s very important to continue to eat good, nutritious‑good nutritious diet.

And also exercise. I think it makes a huge difference in fatigue and overall well‑being to get good exercise and have just a well-balanced diet. But we still do not adopt, you know, specialized diets, sugar‑buster diets for myeloma. I have actually had patients that we’ve gotten after they’ve done two years of alternative therapy, and if you want to complement your treatment with alternative therapy we say as long as it doesn’t interfere with the type of therapy that we’re prescribing, go for it.

But as far as doing alternative diets and therapy, we still have not adopted that or seen a huge benefit to the patients. So I just tell my patients to live your life, have a good nutrition and exercise program.

Jack Aiello:
Yeah, I agree. Well, I think Lonnie asked a question that’s been asked for 15 years at least, and that is whether to get a stem cell transplant or not. And specifically how does one make a sound decision about that? I’ll start with Dr. Richter.

Dr. Richter:
I appreciate starting with me, although for what it’s worth Dr. Krishnan is actually director of transplantation services. But I think this is a personal decision. As drugs have gotten better and better it is definitely come into question about the role of transplant. Many years ago when the only options we had were steroids, melphalan as pills and a combination called VAD I think it was very clear that autologous stem cell transplant was very much the way to go.

As novel therapies have come outed it continues to come in question. That being said, the data to date has shown that for those patients who are eligible to undergo autologous stem cell transplant there continues to be a benefit for patients who are able to undergo that. Now, what that means is fairly vague, and it differs from country to country. In the United States there’s no absolute age limit, but physiologic age comes into play as much if not more so than chronologic age, so I still think that it’s an important part of therapy.

This will‑‑you know, I think we always ask as we get new therapies is transplant going to go away, and what I always say there’s two reasons why I think transplant is going to be here to stay. Number one is patient selection. There are certain patients that we can give a stem cell transplant who will remain in remission for many years if not longer, so it still represents the best therapy to get those really long‑term remissions. And as we get better data behind us we’ll know, be able to select out who is the correct person to transplant who is really going to get that great benefit.

And one of the things that’s evolving in terms of new technologies is post‑transplant therapy or give‑back. So the question is in the next five to ten years are we going to start to see things like post‑autotransplant (?) carts or post‑transplant placental‑derived national killer cells or some other give‑back post transplant to augment their therapy so that once we get that deep remission with a transplant we can give another immune‑based therapy to push them even farther and achieve an extremely long remission if not potential cure. But I absolutely would love to hear what Dr. Krishnan has to say about the subject.

Jack Aiello:
I do too, but that’s why I asked you first. Dr. Krishnan, you are director of transplantation at City of Hope, so how do you answer this lady’s question?

Dr. Krishnan:
Well, first of all, thank you. You both gave me a promotion. I’m actually not director of transplantation. I’m director of the myeloma program. Still, I guess a couple points. Number one is if you look at the CIB in terms of the (?) international bone marrow transplant registry really only 20 to 30 percent of patients in the United States who are eligible for transplant are referred for transplant, so it’s very underutilized. As Dr. Richter said, we now have trials using modern drugs comparing them to transplant, and transplant still seems to offer us longer remissions.

And then the third point is transplant has become safer so we know in that comparative trials, again, obviously patients selection. You’re going to stack the odds in your favor if you’re going to offer a therapy that you want a good outcome, that the risks now are equivalent to the initial induction RVD therapies for patients getting an autologous transplant. And so much so I can tell you at least at our center we’ve moved our transplant to the outpatient setting.

So when we started patients were in isolation, boy in the bubble kind of thing, and now we recognize most of the infections patients get are from their own body not from everyone bringing it in to them. There’s a lot to be said for, as Kristen said, exercise, walking, diet and trying to maintain some normalcy, so having all those things when you’re not in the hospital are much easier. So all those things tied together hopefully have made transplant much or accessible, safer and sort of less frightening to patients, too.

Jack Aiello:
And, Kristen, you probably get patients there at Arkansas asking why are you suggesting two transplant instead of you just a single transplant? How do you answer?

Kristen Carter:
What’s funny is you ask three transplanters what we think about transplant because we’re all for transplant and we’ve done, you know almost 12,000 transplants for myeloma. And we do do tandem transplants, and they have seen, like Dr. Richter said, the deeper the remission, we know the longer the progression‑free survival, and there have been clinical trials that show that tandem does lead to, I think, it’s a 15‑month progression‑free survival advantage.

However, tandem transplant is not for everyone for sure. I mean, we definitely have people that are in their 70s, late 70s, are we going to do a tandem transplant on that person? Probably not. If you have a 40‑year‑old then that’s where you’re thinking of tandem transplant and more aggressive therapies. And I will tell you we’re seeing patients younger and younger. The 30‑year‑olds that I see, come into our clinic it’s just heartbreaking. We usually think of myeloma in patients that are in 60s and 70s, and, you know, if you give those patients a 10‑year survival maybe that’s a success. But if you have a 40‑year or even a 30‑year‑old, 10 years is not a success.

So we’re trying to do what we can up front to give these patients the best long‑term progression‑free survival available. Yes, as we sit here today transplant today‑‑it may change tomorrow with newer therapies‑‑has shown the best benefit for these long‑term progression‑free survivals.

Jack Aiello:
We have patients in our support group and I know across the nation saying, well, should I consider trying to get one of these CAR‑T therapies instead of doing a transplant? Dr. Krishnan, let me ask you the question. Do you think one day that maybe CAR‑T might replace transplants? Or how do you answer patients that have that question?

Dr. Krishnan:
I don’t‑‑well, number one, I think that’s 15 steps forward. If you look at the progression‑free survival just from the Bluebird trial it was‑‑it’s not four years, which is what‑‑or three years even what you’d see. Again those are relapsed patients.

Jack Aiello:
Heavily pretreated, yeah.

Dr. Krishnan:
Exactly. We do know too is you first have to reduce the amount of myeloma in the body for CAR‑T to work well and also to reduce the toxicity of CAR‑T. So you can’t just take someone with newly diagnosed myeloma and give them CAR‑T cells.

What we are looking at is the trial that was going to open through the (?) VMD CPN is patients that have very, very high risk myeloma doing CAR‑T cells after an autologous transplant. So really in a way you’re trying to get the best of both worlds.

Jack Aiello:
And, Dr. Richter, you would probably agree with that?

Dr. Richter:
Absolutely. At the moment although CAR‑T technology is extremely exciting it is not FDA‑approved and as it’s on clinical trials spots are unfortunately very limited, so at the moment the standard of care is still to move towards an autologous transplant. Having an autologous transplant does not make you ineligible for many of the CAR‑T protocols.

The only type of transplant that limits options for CAR‑T is allogeneic stem cell transplant, makes you ineligible for many but not all of the CAR‑T protocols. But, again, the decision of which way to go now is going to change in the future and this is a conversation you should definitely have with your care team.

Jack Aiello:
Thank you. We need to start wrapping up, although I have a number of other questions I could ask you. And I do want to ask one question that was asked, and that was from Heather who asked the question about how‑‑can you discuss or how are any of the new treatments being used to treat amyloidosis that’s caused by myeloma? Dr. Krishnan, can you respond to that?

Dr. Krishnan:
I think we need to make a distinction because amyloidosis, what we call secondary amyloid that’s associated with myeloma and then there’s primary amyloidosis which tends to be much more of a different clinical symptoms, and those patients, quite frankly, often are sicker than myeloma patients because amyloid can involve the heart, the GI tract, kidneys and a lot of neuropathy. And certainly the heart, when amyloid involves the heart especially that can make patients quite fragile.

And so the drugs we use, we do use the myeloma drugs because amyloid is still a disorder from plasma cells, but we tend to use them at different doses. And, again, we monitor for different toxicities in that population. Having said that, you know, we’re very excited about daratumumab now and activity in amyloidosis. Again that’s primary amyloidosis.

But, as I say, amyloid is such a different bird for us. We have a director of amyloid here. It’s really grown into its own special niche. They have their own society too. I mean, we co‑mix, but again it tells you how unique that disease is.

Jack Aiello:
And, Dr. Richter, how do you treat secondary amyloid?

Dr. Richter:
Unfortunately, so far the drugs that we have for myeloma that we use in amyloidosis, they control the core problem which is the production of the light chains that tends to lead to amyloid but doesn’t get rid of the amyloid fibrils themselves. So we have patients that enter a hematologic remission where we get rid of the bad protein, but they still have significant organ dysfunction, either cardiac or renal most commonly from amyloidosis.

There are several drugs in clinical trials that are looking at targeting the amyloid fibrils themselves, and although it’s still somewhat controversial there’s some interesting data about doxycycline, which is an antibiotic a lot of us have used in the clinic, that there may be a component that doxycycline may destabilize some of the amyloid fibrils. Again, the data is still evolving, and we don’t know yet, unfortunately, how to treat many of these patients. Amyloid is one of those diseases which is often diagnosed after patients have had it for a very long time, and we often have a lot of ground to make up at diagnosis.

Jack Aiello:
Can I ask each of you to make closing remarks? The objective of this webinar was to provide insights to myeloma patients in terms of how to best move forward in getting the right treatment and cancer care for their myeloma. Dr. Krishnan?

Dr. Krishnan:
I guess I would bring it full cycle to echo what Dr. Richter said at the beginning. Myeloma is still is rare disease compared to breast cancer, lung cancer, so most community doctors don’t see a lot of myeloma. And we know from actually published articles now that the more myeloma patients you see the better the outcomes are for centers.

So we don’t expect everyone to travel to LA or the Bay Area. So it could be 20 miles, but it could take two hours, so we don’t have that expectation you’re going to come in every week to see a myeloma center, but at least have that conversation early in the course of diagnosis and at various stages along the way, if the myeloma comes back, for example. Again, good to have it at points where you’re thinking of changing therapy.

Jack Aiello:
Getting second opinions from myeloma experts like yourself to at least be part of your medical team and work with your community doctor is awfully important in my opinion.

Kristen, can you offer your summary comments?

Kristen Carter:
I think both Dr. Krishnan and Dr. Richter are absolutely correct. Get to an academic center I think is important if you have the means. Also be your own patient advocate. I do think that the more well informed you are the better. And also the big thing that I see a lot is we will see these new trials come out, and, oh, this is so exciting, but we don’t have long‑term follow‑up for these new treatments, and we’re going to try the tried and true with the long‑term follow‑up success in the treatment available. So getting to an academic center, getting the treatment that they recommend and being your own patient advocate I think are the biggest takeaways to our patients.

Jack Aiello:
And, Dr. Richter, you have about 30 seconds.

Dr. Richter:
So, to me, the biggest thing is don’t be quiet. I see a lot of patients being stoic. You don’t get extra points for being in pain, not sleeping at night, getting neuropathy. Our entire care team, our whole purpose is to help in any way that we can, and if we don’t know some of the symptoms are going on we can’t treat them, so I would rather hear 10 symptoms that are not worrisome signs than not hear one that is.

So please encourage you to reach out to your nurses, PA s, doctors, the whole care team especially when you’re in the visits. It’s all about you. Please speak up if you have any problems at all because we have a lot of ways to deal with them.

Jack Aiello:
Thank you all for the insights you provided for myeloma patients. My name is Jack Aiello, and I appreciate all that you do.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Empowerment Network. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

What Does It Mean To Be An Empowered Patient?

The term “patient empowerment” is among the top buzzwords in health care circles, but as with many buzzwords, they can mean different things to different people.  The term is most often used to emphasize the value of having patients assert greater control over their health and health care.  WHO defines empowerment as “a process through which people gain greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health” (WHO 1998).  This shift is due in large part to the use of technology that facilitates increased patient access to information via the Internet, peer-to-peer sharing, consumer health devices, and mobile apps.

In a recent Twitter chat, I set out to explore what it means to be an empowered patient today.  The global participation of those who shared their views on the topic shows that patient empowerment is something of universal interest.

Seven Essential Components of Patient Empowerment

1. Information

Information is fundamental to the process of patient empowerment.  Rare disease advocate and parent, Anne Lawlor (@22Q11_Ireland) believes that “an informed educated parent is an empowered one.”  Patients make the best decisions when armed with the right information.  To make genuinely informed decisions about our treatment we must have access to the relevant information needed to make those decisions. “Being informed is key to empowerment for me,” says specialist palliative care social worker, Deirdre McKenna (@KennaDeirdre). “Accurate information, clearly communicated and an available space to discuss and explore options and choices.”

Research shows that access to the right information, at the right time, delivered in the right way, leads to an increase in a patient’s desire and ability to take a more active role in decision-making.  Open and transparent communication and access to a patient’s own medical records is a key driver of patient empowerment. Medical Director and Consultant Surgeon, Dermot O’Riordan (@dermotor) believes to truly empower patients “we should be aiming for the “Open Notes” principles of default sharing of all documents.”    As patient advocate and CEO of Medistori Personal Health Record, Olive O’Connor (@MediStori) points out, “the patient is at the very core of every single service they use – they know everything there is to know about themselves, in the home and outside of it. Yet patient records are not kept with them!”

The OpenNotes initiative began in 2010 as a year-long demonstration project, with 105 primary care physicians at three diverse U.S. health care centers inviting 20,000 patients to read visit notes online through patient portals. Findings from the study suggest that shared notes may improve communication, safety, and patient-doctor relationships, and may help patients become more actively involved with their health and health care.  Evidence also shows a sixty percent improvement in the patient’s ability to adhere to medications, a major problem with managing chronic pain conditions. What is key to the discussion on patient empowerment is that this initiative “demonstrates how a simple intervention can have an enormous impact, even absent advanced technology” (my emphasis).

2. Health Literacy

While access to information is a key driver of patient information, health literacy is  defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” (National Library of Medicine).  Health literacy should come before digital literacy. “Health literacy is crucial,” says healthcare analyst, Matthew Loxton (@mloxton), “and you cannot get empowerment without health literacy.” Soo Hun (@soo_cchsc), Programme Manager at the Centre for Connected Health and Social Care, believes “digital is a key aspect but health literacy, even basic literacy is a must. Not all things digital requires tech know-how but all health information requires basic literacy. An app for meds reminder is no use if a patient lacks understanding of why medication is needed in the first place or why they need to be taken promptly.  We spend too little time transferring knowledge to patients.”

This transfer of knowledge is crucial to the empowerment process, according to Olive O’Connor. “At the first point of contact with the patient,” she says, “education on how, what, why, where and when in relation to a condition or medication should be talked through fully. All other tools (digital, leaflets etc.) should come after the conversation which is key to empowerment.”

3. Digital Literacy

Cornell University defines digital literacy as “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.”  It’s interesting to note that opinions vary on whether digital literacy is essential to patient empowerment. RN turned patient advocate and health activist, Kayoko Ky Corbet (@kkcorbet) doesn’t believe that “digital literacy is an absolute requirement, but the ability to find accurate relevant information, and understand the information is.” Breast cancer advocate, Jennifer (@vitalfrequencis) agrees that “digital literacy is not fundamental and should not be part of the equation. Empowerment needs to be across all socioeconomic groups. Otherwise…a whole bunch of patients may never be empowered.”

Dermot O’Riordan is convinced that “whilst it sounds nice to say that digital is not ‘necessary’ for patient empowerment, in practice it is going to be pretty tough to do it properly/completely without digital.” Transplant recipient and rare disease patient, Carol McCullough (@Imonlyslightly ) also believes “digital literacy strengthens the empowerment process.” She too points to “access to your medical information online” as a key component of the empowerment process. “Knowing your personal medical data is strength, as is education about your illness,” she says.

Maternity campaigner, SeánaTalbot (@SeanaTalbot) believes that “those with long-term conditions and access to technology have a better chance of accessing information and support.”  Indeed many patients have found in the online world of peer-to-peer healthcare an environment in which they are supported to become a more empowered participant in their healthcare. As I look back on my own empowerment journey, my progress was advanced step-by-step by learning more about my disease initially from doctors, then through Internet searches, and most helpful of  all  through patient peers online. Finding and being part of a patient community can be an important step on the path to empowerment.

4. Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy, as it relates to healthcare, is belief in your ability to effect change in outcomes so that you can achieve your personal health goals. The patient empowerment definition which comes to us from the European Patient Forum describes empowerment as a process that “helps people gain control over their own lives and increases their capacity to act on issues that they themselves define as important.”

Developing a sense of personal control over your health is in itself empowering. The empowered patient is confident in their ability to manage their condition. When unsure about where to go or what to do next they will feel confident to ask questions of the healthcare professionals providing their care.  This confidence comes easier to some than others, and even the most confident may need guidance from their doctors in managing their disease. Endocrinologist, Iris Thiele Isip Tan, MD (@endocrine_witch) points out that “some of my patients are surprised when I teach them how to adjust/titrate insulin doses. Apparently not all MDs ‘allow’ this. Some need handholding because they get anxious about the responsibility.”

Digital leader and physiotherapist, Linda Vernon (@VernonLinda), believes “for authentic patient engagement to occur, we need to establish what the patient brings to the table, something akin to an individual, personal take on Asset-Based Community Development – perhaps we could think of it as Asset-Based Personal Development, supporting the patient to tap into their own internal, community or environmental resources to improve their health and wellbeing.  Engaging patients should be as much about exploring what they can do for themselves and to help the health and care system, as what we professionals can offer to the patient.”

5. Mutual Respect

The healthcare professional is the most important contact point for the patient and the system and (dis)empowerment often manifests in the patient/professional relationship. At the heart of the empowerment approach is seeing the patient-professional relationship as a partnership of equals.  Carol McCullough describes it as a reciprocal process of “mutual respect for what each person knows and being allowed to make informed choices. It is not about command and control.”

This is a partnership approach that seeks to balance clinician expertise with patient preference. It recognizes that while healthcare professionals are the experts in their knowledge of a disease, patients are the experts by experience. The empowerment process is about sharing both knowledge and experience to set new goals and learn with and from each other. Dr Kit Byatt (@Laconic_doc) agrees. “Many patients are experts”, he says, “especially rare disease patients.  I’ve learned from many in my career.”

Building better relationships and seeing the patient as more than ‘just a patient’ was a recurring theme in the Twitter chat. Elena Vaughan (@StigmaStudyIE), who is researching the impact of HIV-related stigma in Ireland, believes that “an empowered patient is treated with respect, involved in shared decision-making regrading care and treatment, and is not patronised. For people with chronic conditions, effective communication, continuity of care and establishing a relationship of trust is very important.” Sometimes, as ME blogger and patient advocate, Sally Burch (@KeelaToo) points out, “not all patients are lacking confidence to speak. The problem is being heard.”

Patient and community advocate, Triona Murphy (@Murpht01) advises doctors to get to know your patients as individuals.  “Know your patient!!…and their family,” she says. “No one size fits all! BUT there was/is still a culture of the ‘person’ stops at the door of the hospital and that person is now a patient.’”  As antibiotic resistance campaigner, Vanessa Carter (@_FaceSA) says, “I might be a patient but I am also a creative director by profession. No one recognises me on that level. They see me as an underdog.”

6. Shared Decision Making

This partnership approach allows for Shared Decision-Making (SDM) – the conversation that happens between a patient and clinician to reach a healthcare choice together. Examples include decisions about surgery, medications, self-management, and screening and diagnostic tests. There is ample research which suggests that health outcomes are better in patients who are more involved in decisions about their treatment.

In the SDM model, the clinician provides current, evidence-based information about treatment options, describing their risks and benefits, and the patient expresses his or her preferences and values. Matthew Loxton points to how seldom we have metrics to track whether patient goals are being met. “Yet this,” he believes, “is THE most important part of quality.”

7. A Facilitating Environment

Linda Vernon defines patient engagement as “activating the person’s inner assets and supporting them to make the best use of them.” Being supported is a key component of patient empowerment. Many patients would like to take more responsibility for their own health and care, given the opportunities and support to do so. Empowerment does not happen in a vacuum: it is a two-way process. The patient needs a counterpart in the health professional who welcomes the patient’s involvement and knows how to create an enabling healthcare environment. Kayoko Ky Corbet states she became an independent patient advocate when she realized most doctors simply do not have the time (and often skills) to take this facilitating role and promote shared decision-making that patients desperately need. As Patient Critical Co-op (@PatientCritical) puts it, “if you have a patient who wants to advocate for themselves, and become informed, you also need a doctor that respects the patient’s right to share decision making.”

Is It Empowerment or Participation?

Not everyone likes to use the term “empowerment”, as it implies that it is an authority given to someone to do something. “I balk at the idea that professionals can ‘give’ (usually on their terms) power to the powerless,” says Alison Cameron (@allyc375). “We need to create conditions whereby people can “empower” themselves.” Seána Talbot agrees that patient empowerment “doesn’t mean ‘giving’ people power.’ Rather it’s about ‘enabling’ them to recognise and use their power.”

Perhaps the term ‘participation’ (which is a more active state) is preferable? This distinction is important because empowerment cannot be imposed ‘top down’ (although it can be facilitated).  Sharon Thompson (@sharontwriter) believes that “patients should not be pressurised or need to be in a position of ‘power.’ It should be automatic that a patient is central and key to their care. Patients are automatically empowered when they are respected as being people who are entitled to understand and know about their care.”

Neither is patient empowerment about the patient taking full control or shifting responsibility to the patient.  “If the empowerment amounts to abandonment”, says Matthew Loxton, “then the patient’s health goals are not being met. Patient empowerment should never be an excuse for abandoning or burdening the patient.”

Rather, the empowerment approach, as defined by the European Patient Foundation (EPF) “aims to realise the vision of patients as ‘co-producers’ of health and as integral actors in the health system.”  Caregiver Reinhart Gauss (@ReinhartG) agrees that “patient advocates want to work with not against doctors – to share experiences and to grow in knowledge.”  Vanessa Carter is clear that “we still want our doctors, but they are not there 24/7 so patients need the right tools to make self-care possible.”

Equally, it is about recognizing that there are degrees of involvement and not all patients wish to be ‘empowered.’  There is a spectrum of interest in wanting to assume an active role in care – from being passively receptive to fully engaged. It is up to the patients themselves to choose their own level of engagement. Pharmacist Chris Maguire (@chris_magz) sees this choice as the essence of empowerment. Patients “get to decide how much they want to look into things and take control. Or they want to be guided on the journey and have trust in their healthcare providers. But the key is that they decide the level of interaction and are not dictated to.”  Kayoko Ky Corbet agrees that “true patient empowerment should be about helping patients get involved at their highest potential or at the level they choose.” However, she says “it’s also important to keep the option of involvement open. Ideally patients should get opportunities to change their minds to participate in decision-making later.”

Empowerment as an Ongoing Process

Empowerment is a non-binary, non-linear process. Your needs may change over time. You might feel empowered in a certain context, but disempowered in another. Healthcare communicator, Michi Endemann (@MichiEndemann) makes the distinction that “talking about empowerment as a healthy person is quite different than talking about it as a patient.”  As patient advocate, Rachel Lynch (@rachelmlynch) puts it, “it can be quite tiring being empowered when all you want to be is well.” A sentiment echoed by Kathy Kastner (@KathyKastner), founder of Best Endings, who clarifies how “to me ‘empowered’ assumes I’m feeling physically and mentally up to the task of ‘being engaged’. I’ve seen powerhouses who cannot bring themselves to take responsibility for their own health.”

Mental health advocate and co-founder of #DepressionHurts, Norah (@TalentCoop) calls attention to the fragile nature of empowerment. “Even the strongest can quickly feel disempowered by a deterioration in health,” she says. “Fear disempowers. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘can’t’ not ‘won’t.’”

For those who feel ready for a greater degree of participation in their healthcare (and that of their family and loved ones), Jennifer advises that “being willing to self-advocate, along with self-confidence, communication skills, compromise, research skills, and relationship building” are some of the key traits and skills you need to become an empowered patient. Terri Coutee (@6state), patient advocate and founder of DiepCjourney Foundation, adds that “empowered patients do their research, ask questions, go to appointments organized, and take a friend to help listen.”

Barriers to Patient Empowerment and Overcoming Challenges

What are some of the current barriers to involving patients more in their care? Jennifer points to a “lack of adequate time during the doctor’s visit (on both sides), language barriers, technology barriers, generation gaps, and cultural gaps.”  The solution?  “All solved by building good relationships,” says Jennifer.

Norah also calls attention to the technology barriers. “For older patients simple things like communication (hearing), or uninformed changes are extremely disempowering; as is over reliance on technology for a generation who may not have ‘tech’ understanding or access.”  Tim Delaney (@FrancosBruvva), Head of Pharmacy at a leading hospital in Ireland highlights the fact that “in acute hospitals we treat huge numbers of elderly people whose engagement with social media and new technology is lower. We need to design technology that meets their usability needs AND use whatever suits them best be it old tech or new.” Soo Hun agrees that “the tech savvy few have quicker and better access to health information and therefore can have choice and autonomy. To reverse that we need to make technology ubiquitous and make health information and choice easily accessible.”

Whilst Vanessa believes it should be “governmental policy to have digital resources in place, for example, disease specific websites / apps supported by health authorities,” Kayoko believes it can start with “tech-savvy advocates (like me) who could help patients learn to use simple digital tools.”

Matthew Loxton sees a core barrier to empowerment to be “the large knowledge/power gradients between patients and health care providers. Without access to their data, trustworthy sources of medical knowledge, and the power to execute their choices in achieving health goals, empowerment is an empty phrase.”  Triona Murphy echoes this systemic challenge by clarifying that “the whole system needs to understand the patient’s right to be equal partners in their care. IF that is what the patient wants.”

Sometimes the fear of being labelled a difficult patient can be a barrier to empowerment. “Some patients feel uncomfortable challenging the judgement or actions of their caregivers for the fear of being labelled as ‘difficult’, of offending staff and/or because of concerns of compromising their healthcare and safety,” says Tim Delaney.

Final Thoughts

Not everyone wants to be empowered in making decisions about their care, and not every doctor wants to take the time. Some doctors use medical terminology which is incomprehensible to patients, while some patients have low health literacy skills or come from cultural backgrounds that lack a tradition of individuals making autonomous decisions.  That said, Carol McCullough points out that while “not everyone may want to be empowered, for the health service to be sustainable, more people are going to have to take on more responsibility.”

Medical Doctor and Chair of Technical Advisory Board, Pavilion Health, Dr Mary Ethna Black (@DrMaryBlack) points to the inevitability of the shift towards patient empowerment. “Empowerment is an inevitable shift that is happening anyway, “she says. “We cannot turn back the tide or turn off the internet.”

Kayoko Ky Corbet agrees that we “must understand that patients making informed decisions is the ultimate way to reduce waste, pain and regrets in healthcare. It’s also morally the right thing to do!”  Patient Critical Co-op also believes in the moral imperative that “empowerment essentially means a group or society recognizing your right. Patient empowerment exists as an action patients can take to improve themselves, but the key to achieving that improvement is having a group, organization, or state enshrine and recognize those rights.” In fact, the Alma Ata Declaration defined civic involvement in healthcare as both a right and a duty: “The people have the right and duty to participate individually and collectively in the planning and implementation of their healthcare.” The Declaration highlights the collective dimension of empowerment and the importance of action towards change. By working together to think internationally and act nationally we can draw on each other’s experiences so that as individuals and as a collective we can work towards better outcomes for all patients.  To quote Terri Coutee, “When we gather our collective empowered voices, we feel a strong responsibility to give voice to others.”

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr Liam Farrell in facilitating the Twitter discussion on which this article is based.

To stay up to date on the latest cancer information and resources, sign up today!


Uber Health App

The Community Transportation Association estimates that approximately 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because of transportation issues that cost the health care system $150 billion each year.

To help combat this issue, Uber has created a new app called Uber Health. Earlier this month Uber announced that they are working with providers to offer reliable rides for patients, care partners, and families to get to and from doctor’s appointments and the hospital.

The app will allow medical and administrative staff to either call an Uber to drive a specific patient home, or to dispatch an Uber to the patient’s house for pick up. The app also allows users to schedule the ride up to 30 days in advance, so important appointments are never missed. Planning transportation in advance enables patients to schedule rides to and from follow-up appointments even while they are still in the healthcare facility. With the ability to schedule and manage multiple rides from a single dashboard, healthcare professionals can take their level of care to the next level with Uber Health.

How It Works

Uber Health saves patients time and money, as they can focus their attention on their health instead of worrying about how they might get to their next appointment. With the help of Uber’s cost-saving methodology, patients and healthcare professionals can save money utilizing the app over hailing taxis or paying for expensive hospital parking.

Uber Health enables older patients and those with chronic pain gain independence and mobility. Because all communication with Uber Health is completed via text message, patients no longer need a smartphone and the corresponding Uber app to access Uber Health’s benefits.

The Uber Health dashboard was designed with HIPAA standards in mind, ensuring that all aspects of the service meet health care privacy and security standards.

As a part of Uber’s beta program, over 100 healthcare organizations in the U.S, including hospitals, clinics, rehab centers, senior care facilities, home care centers, and physical therapy centers are already using Uber Health.



For more information, please visit the Uber Health site:

Patient Advocacy: Understanding Your Illness

The news that you, or a loved one, has a serious illness can be a terrible blow.  You may be faced with an array of emotions ranging from shock to fear to anxiety. You will likely have many questions and concerns about what the coming days and months will bring, and the impact living with this illness will have on your life and the lives of your family. Although you may be reeling from the news, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about your diagnosis, its symptoms, how it may progress and what treatment options are available. In this article, you will learn which questions you should ask your healthcare team and where to find reliable and trustworthy information to become better informed about your health condition.

1. Obtaining Information From Your Doctors And Healthcare Team

Having answers to your questions can help you understand your illness better and feel more in control about your treatment decisions.  How much information you want is up to you. Some patients feel overwhelmed by too much information at this stage.  Others say they didn’t receive enough information.  While information upon first diagnosis is vitally important, you may be in shock and in a heightened emotional state which makes it difficult to fully comprehend all the information you are given. If possible, bring a trusted friend or family member to appointments with you to take notes. If this is not possible, ask your doctor if you can record the consultation so you can focus on listening, and go back and review what was said later.

Medical care is a conversation and to have influence in that conversation you have to speak up. Never be embarrassed to tell your healthcare team if you don’t understand something they’ve said. Sometimes doctors use medical jargon without realizing they are not explaining things in terms we understand. Repeat what the doctor has told you to be sure you understand and ask for clarification if needed.

Some questions to ask your doctor about your diagnosis:

  • What are the symptoms of this illness?
  • What should you do if you notice new symptoms or if existing symptoms worsen?
  • Do you need any further diagnostic tests?
  • What are your treatment options?
  • What are the side-effects of the recommended treatment?
  • What are the benefits vs the risks?
  • What happens if you do nothing?
  • Are there other treatment options available?

Finally, ask your healthcare team if they can recommend further reading, support groups and other resources to help you learn more about your illness.

2. Finding Reliable Information Online

As you move along the patient journey and better understand your illness, you may want higher levels of information. However, you may find the information healthcare professionals provide has not keep pace with your increased needs. This is the point where many patients turn online to seek more information. While the Internet can be a useful source of health information, it’s important to know how to critically evaluate the information you find online. Always discuss what you find with your healthcare team and ask them to put the information into context for your particular situation.

Here are some questions to help you determine the trustworthiness of online sources of information.

  • Who has produced the information?
  • Does the organization have commercial interests or another reason they are promoting this information?
  • Is the name of the organization and their aims in setting up the website clearly shown?
  • Does the site provide contact details if you have any questions?
  • Is the information on the website up to date?
  • Does it cite the source of the information that is being presented?
  • Does the site link with other reputable sites that give similar information?

3. Evaluating Medical News Reports

Whether it’s published in hard copy or online, medical news reports can mislead people into thinking a certain drug or treatment is the next breakthrough in a disease.  As patient advocates we must learn to read beyond the headlines to filter out the good, the bad, and the questionable.

The following questions will help you evaluate the reliability of medical news reporting.

  • Does the article support its claims with scientific research?
  • What is the original source of the article?
  • Who paid for and conducted the study?
  • How many people did the research study include?
  • Did the study include a control group?
  • What are the study’s limitations?
  • If it’s a clinical trial that is being reported on, what stage is the trial at?

Always try to read an original study (if cited) to critically evaluate the information presented. Understanding research literature is an important skill for patient advocates. For tips on how to read a research paper click on this link.

4. Learning From Peers

From helping us to uncover a diagnosis and finding the right doctors and treatments, to learning about everyday coping tips, turning to our peers can make all the difference in how we live with our illnesses.  Much of this peer-to-peer learning takes place through social media discussions on patient blogs and in Facebook groups and Twitter chats. On Facebook you can connect with other patient advocates and join Facebook groups related to your disease or health condition. On Twitter you have a greater mix of patients, physicians, healthcare professionals and medical researchers coming together to discuss healthcare matters. It is becoming increasingly popular for attendees at key medical conferences, such as ASCO, to “live-tweet” sessions. You can follow along on Twitter using the conference hashtag which you should find published on the conference website. Another way to learn on Twitter is to join a Twitter chat related to your health condition. Twitter chats can be one-off events, but more usually are recurring weekly chats to regularly connect people. There are chats for most disease topics and a full list can be found by searching the database of the Healthcare Hashtag Project.

Final Thoughts

Understanding your illness is the first step on the path to advocating for yourself and others.

Being an advocate involves asking lots of questions, conducting your own research, and making your preferences known to your healthcare team. By doing this, you will be better informed and in a stronger position to get the treatment that is right for you. If this feels overwhelming to you right now, go at your own pace, and reach out to others who have walked this path before you. There is an army of patients who are standing by, ready to share their healthcare wisdom and practical coping tips with you. Seeking their advice will help lessen the fear and isolation you may be feeling, give you a sense of shared experience and connection, and help you feel more in charge of your healthcare decisions.

Myeloma Patient Cafe® August 2017 – Self-Education and Empowerment

Patient Cafe® Multiple Myeloma – August 2017 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

In this session of the Myeloma Patient Cafe®, a group of myeloma patients discuss self-education and empowerment.

Fact Checking 101: Health Literacy in Real Time

There’s a medical miracle every day, if you believe headlines on popular media sites. If you just read those headlines, cancer is cured daily, as are hepatitis C, and a host of neurological conditions. Dive into the stories, though, and you’ll all too often find the “in mice” red flag, meaning that scientific experiments have indicated that mice are having terrific outcomes from whatever substance is being touted. Humans? Not so much.

Information flows at the speed of life – thank you, Internet – but information does not always equal factual truth. Which is where fact checking comes in, and what I’ll be offering tips on here. As a journalist, I’ve hunted down confirmations on stories for years – here’s a quick primer on doing it for your own health/science literacy building.

  • this site is the granddaddy of online myth busting. They have a dedicated channel for health news, which is definitely a good first stop to fact check a headline touting a “cure” for an illness or condition.
  • Sense About Science USA: the US arm of the UK-based Sense About Science and AllTrials, this site takes a deep dive into advocacy and literacy building for both the public, and professionals, around medical science. They’re in the process of creating an AllAccess Patient Guide on clinical trial participation, and transparency in reporting on all trials, which will be published in the fall of this year (2017).
  • Health News Review: the editors and reviewers behind this site are professional healthcare journalists dedicated to reading and scoring the reporting on health science in major media. I think of them as Politifact For Healthcare – they don’t issue “pants on fire” or “Pinocchio” warnings, but their 5-star review system is rigorous, and great reading.
  • and these sites assess news stories and sources in many categories, from politics to science to health policy. They’re produced by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and are great resources for fact checking in all news categories, not just science.
  • Retraction Watch: this is in the Super Science Nerd Journalist zone, covering the retraction of scientific papers around the world. There’s an old news adage about corrections being buried deep beneath the front page – that rule goes double in science publishing. A paper is published, and makes big headlines. If it’s retracted weeks/months/years later, there’s seldom a screaming headline announcing the retraction, leaving the untruth out there to be misunderstood and often misused.

Building your own health and science literacy is a process. Reading the latest medical science news is a starting point, but you have to add fact checking as a critical part of your learning curve. Then use the “see one, do one, teach one” method to help your friends and family build their health literacy, teaching them how to find and fact check the science news that matters – that’s how we all build healthy, science-literate communities.

Myeloma Patient Cafe® July 2017 – What Life is Like with Myeloma

Patient Cafe® Multiple Myeloma – July 2017 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

In this session of the Patient Cafe®, a group of myeloma patients will discuss what life is like now that they are living with myeloma.

How to Weigh Up the Benefits and Risks of Treatment…and Why It’s Important That You Do

Do clinicians have accurate expectations of the benefits and harms of treatments and screening tests?

new study in JAMA Internal Medicine concludes not. In a systematic review of 48 studies (13 011 clinicians), the researchers found that clinicians rarely had accurate expectations of benefits or harms, more often underestimating harms and overestimated benefits. Among the findings, obstetricians and neurologists underestimated the risk of birth defects from anti-epileptic drugs and GPs overestimated the benefit of prostate cancer screening. Transplant surgeons were biased towards an inaccurately low estimate of graft failure and all types of doctors were unaware of the risk of radiation exposure from imaging.

What do these findings mean for patients? Inaccurate clinician expectations of the benefits and harms of interventions can profoundly influence decision making and the standard of care patients receive. Patient activist, blogger, and author of the upcoming book “Heart Sisters: A Survivor’s Take on Women and Heart Disease” (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2017), Carolyn Thomas, believes this to be “a consistently systemic issue for patients, too: most believe medical interventions will help more/harm less than they actually do”. It’s a wake-up call for patients who have a critical role to play in understanding and weighing up benefits and risks for ourselves, in order to get better treatment. And it’s a further reminder of the importance of shared decision making to reach a healthcare choice together, as opposed to clinicians making decisions on behalf of patients.

However, understanding the risks associated with a treatment is not necessarily straight-forward. The challenge for busy clinicians is that there isn’t always the time to read and digest the latest research to inform their practice. Medical commentator, physician, and cancer survivor, Elaine Schattner, believes that because medical knowledge changes so rapidly it’s hard for clinicians to keep pace. “This may be especially true in oncology,” she points out, “as patients become expert in their own conditions and needs, they may prefer to look up information on their own, and share their findings with their physicians.”

A lengthy article published this month in ProPublica, examines what it calls “an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatment” requested by patients and delivered by doctors, even after current research contradicts its practice. “It is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous”, writes David Epstein. “Some procedures are implemented based on studies that did not prove whether they really worked in the first place. Others were initially supported by evidence but then were contradicted by better evidence, and yet these procedures have remained the standards of care for years, or decades.” Epstein points to a 2013 study which examined all 363 articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine over a decade — 2001 through 2010 — that tested a current clinical practice. Their results, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found 146 studies that proved or strongly suggested that a current standard practice either had no benefit at all or was inferior to the practice it replaced. Of course, this is not to say that myriad treatments don’t indeed improve and save lives, but it’s important to ask questions and do your own research before making a decision on which treatment is the best for you.

Start by asking your doctor to explain all the treatment options open to you, including what would happen if you do nothing. Recognise that all treatments are inevitably associated with some risk of possible harm. Ask your doctor to quantify that risk beyond a purely descriptive term, such as “low risk” (what your doctor considers a small and acceptable risk may be unacceptable to you). Next, do your own research. In order to make an informed decision, you will need to gather reliable information on which to base your choice. Fully exploring the risks and benefits of treatment involves doing your own evidence-based research (using evidence from medical studies that have looked at what happens to many thousands of people with your condition). In a previous article, I shared with you some helpful guidelines for assessing medical information. Most media reports about the benefits of treatments present risk results as relative risk reductions rather than absolute risk reductions, so you will need to understand the difference. Absolute risk of a disease is your risk of developing the disease over a time period. We all have absolute risks of developing various diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc. Relative risk is used to compare the risk in two different groups of people. For example, research has shown that smokers have a higher risk of developing heart disease compared to non-smokers. Ask your doctor to differentiate between absolute and relative risk. Check out the NNT website which provides non-biased summaries of evidence-based medicine. “NNT” stands for a statistical concept called the “Number-Needed-to-Treat” – as in “How many patients need to be treated with a drug or procedure for one patient to get the hoped-for benefit?” The core value of the NNT is its straightforward communication of the science that can help us understand the likelihood that a patient will be helped, harmed, or unaffected by a treatment. It provides a measurement of the impact of a medicine or therapy by estimating the number of patients that need to be treated in order to have an impact on one person. Because we know that not everyone is helped by a medicine or intervention — some benefit, some are harmed, and some are unaffected, the NNT tells us how many of each.

You may also want to hear about what other people with your condition have chosen to do and what their experience has been. But remember that just because something has/hasn’t worked for someone else, it doesn’t mean it will/won’t work for you. Orthopedic surgeon, Dr Nicholas DiNubile, recommends patients ask their doctors, “If this were you, or one of your immediate family members, what would you do and/or recommend?” While this may be useful, you must ultimately decide what benefits and risks are important to you. Can you tolerate the side-effects? Are you happy with the way the treatment is administered? Would you find it stressful to live with the risk of any serious side effects, even if the risk is small? What matters is whether you think that the benefits outweigh the risk of any side effects. Everyone is different. The treatment recommended for you may not be the best treatment for your particular lifestyle. Being an advocate for your own health care involves asking lots of questions, doing your own research, and making your preferences known to your doctor. By doing this, you will be better informed and in a stronger position to get the treatment that is right for you.

Related Reading
Clinicians’ Expectations of Treatments, Screening, and Test Benefit and Harm
The three questions that every patient should ask their doctor
Strategies to help patients understand risks

ePatient Virtual Courses

The ePatient virtual classrooms are designed to empower patients in all their healthcare matters.

ePatient 101

ePatient101: How to be an Empowered Patient, is an online course for anyone interested in becoming an empowered patient, empowered caregiver, or patient advocate. Through this online course taught by Alex Barfuss, you will learn:

  • The meaning of the term “ePatient”
  • Why being an ePatient is so important in today’s healthcare system
  • How you can save time and money and get better overall value from your health care providers
  • How to advocate for yourself
  • Tools, tips and best practices to help manage your or your loved one’s chronic disease

Caregiver 101

Caregiver 101 is full of useful tools for caregivers and taught by founder, Denise Brown. By taking this course, you will learn:

  • How the carer/caree relationship can be a health relationship
  • How to find balance
  • How to find more time for your self
  • How to ask for support
  • Tips, tools, and tactics to be a better carer/caree
  • Curated links and resources
  • Videos
  • Knowledge quizzes
  • Support from a community of caregivers at

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) 101

We are excited to be partnering up with to bring you CLL 101. We wanted anyone struggling with a recent CLL diagnosis to become empowered through knowledge and support. By taking this course, you will receive:

  • An overview of CLL
  • Facts about CLL
  • Curated links and resources
  • Videos
  • Knowledge quizzes
  • Printable checklists with questions to ask your doctor
  • Why you should immediately get a second, expert opinion
  • Tips on building your healthcare team, and how your local doctor can work with a CLL expert to provide the best treatment
  • Where to find the latest CLL research, clinical trials, and other treatment options
  • Ability to ask questions from other CLL 101 students

These courses are part of the experience and are free to everyone. You can sign up be clicking one of the buttons below. Enjoy!

Mobile Doctor’s Appointments? Do They Work?

Dr. On Demand Dashboard

Dr. On Demand Dashboard

Hate the doctor’s office and don’t want to go to Urgent Care or the E.R.? There’s an app for that. Doctor On Demand is a mobile application that allows you to have a video appointment with a doctor from your own home. On their website they claim, “At Doctor On Demand we provide fast, easy and cost-effective access to some of the best doctors, psychologists, and other healthcare providers in the country. Our patients can have Video Visits with these providers on their smartphone or computers at any time of day.” Recently a friend of mine used this app for the first time because of a strange lump in her armpit, so I decided to sit in to see what it was all about and if it can actually replace an in-person visit.


First thing you do is download the app, create an account, and fill out your health and insurance information. Then, you are given the option to choose a specific doctor or specific time. If you chose the specific time route, you are assigned a doctor. My friend chose a specific time and told me that it was a very easy, user-friendly process. To prepare for the appointment, you fill out all your symptoms and take pictures of your problem (if applicable) to have on hand. I asked my friend why they chose Doctor On Demand over a traditional doctor, Urgent Care, or E.R., and she said this way she won’t have to waste time stuck in a doctor’s office, could be seen quicker, and the appointment times worked better with her work schedule. However, she was hesitant because the doctor would not be able to feel or see the issue in person, which may affect the diagnosis.


Once your call begins, the doctor begins by reviewing your chart before coming on camera. Next, the doctor comes on camera and asks to explain the problem and the symptoms she was having. The appointment is set up like a FaceTime call. The doctor assigned to my friend was very friendly and attentive. This when those photos you took beforehand are useful because then she asked my friend to upload the photos for her to look at.


After the issue was thoroughly explained, the doctor was unable to diagnose what was going on without further testing. She did explain the several possibilities of what could be occurring and what tests may be needed. However, in the end the doctor did recommend that my friend go see a doctor in-person to get an accurate diagnosis.


In conclusion, my friend was reassured that it didn’t require immediate attention and that she shouldn’t worry. She also felt better and more relax about the few days it would be before she could be seen by a doctor. She and I would both recommend using Dr. On Demand, especially for the simpler alignments, such as colds, because the doctors are able to write prescriptions to your local pharmacy saving you the time wasted in a waiting room. My friend had this to say about her overall experience:

“This was a quick solution to put my mind at ease that something more serious was not going on before I was able to schedule an in-person doctor’s appointment”

15 Tips To Get the Most From Your Doctor’s Visit

beautyHave you ever had the experience of leaving the doctor’s office wishing you had remembered to ask a certain question? Or have you left it until the very end to tell your doctor about the real reason for your visit? These so-called “doorknob” questions – bringing up an important concern just as you are leaving the office – can mean your doctor won’t have time to adequately address your concerns. When the average time it takes for a doctor’s visit is fifteen minutes, it’s easy to feel rushed and forget what you wanted to say, or to leave an appointment unsure of the information you have heard. But with a little advance preparation you can learn how to make the most of those fifteen minutes. Follow these fifteen tips to become a more empowered and engaged partner in your own health – and the health of those you care for.

1. When you call to make your appointment, explain clearly why you need to see the doctor. Let the receptionist know how much time you will need to schedule for the visit. If you have any special needs, such as wheelchair access or interpretive needs, let the office know in advance.

2. Be sure to that where you make your appointment accepts your insurance. You can call or go online to your insurance website to see a directory of in-network providers.

3. If this is your first visit to a new physician, gather together any past medical records and family medical history to take along with you.  If you’re seeing other doctors and have information they’ve provided, bring this along too.

4. Write down a list of your symptoms before the visit. It’s a good idea to keep a diary so you can chart your symptoms over time. Include details of the type of symptoms you are experiencing, when these symptoms began, and what makes them better or worse.

Use this common medical mnemonic to guide you.


  • Pain (“Where does it hurt?”)
  • Quality (“What does it feel like?”)
  • Radiation (“Does it move anywhere?”)
  • Scale (“How bad is it? How much does it affect you?”)
  • Timing (“When did it start? How long does it last? Does it come and go? Is it gradual or sudden in onset? What makes it better or worse?”)
  • Other (“Any other symptoms?”)

5. Set the agenda at the start of your visit. Did you know that a patient has an average of 23 seconds to state their concerns before a physician interrupts? According to an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, only 28% of doctors know their patient’s full spectrum of concerns before they begin to focus on one particular concern, and once the conversation is focused, the likelihood of returning to other concerns is only 8%. Doctors have a limited amount of time for office visits. In order to use their time wisely they usually set the agenda and control the visit as much as possible. To avoid this happening to you, prepare in advance the top two or three concerns you want to raise with your doctor. Are you looking for a diagnosis? Do you need a new treatment plan or a modification of an existing plan? Are you looking for help with feelings of fatigue or depression? Don’t forget to describe your emotional state and any personal circumstances which may influence your physical health. Write down your main concerns so you are ready to verbalize them clearly at the beginning of  your visit.

6. If you use a self-tracking device, like a Fitbit, download your data and summarize the findings beforehand.

7. Bring a list of all medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbs, or supplements. If you have a smart phone or tablet, it’s useful to take pictures of your medication and supplement labels to show the doctor.

8. During your visit, tell your doctor you would like to take notes. If you would prefer to record your notes via your smartphone, ask your doctor if it is ok to do so.

9. Medical care is a conversation. So to have influence in that conversation you have to speak up. If you don’t want the treatment your doctor recommends (or you’re not sure), it’s reasonable to ask if there are other treatment options available. Never be embarrassed to tell your doctor if you don’t understand something she has said. Sometimes doctors use medical jargon without realizing they are not explaining things in terms we understand. Repeat what the doctor has told you to be sure you understand and ask for clarification if needed

10. If you find it difficult to speak up for yourself, or you are facing a potentially challenging diagnosis, bring a friend or family member along for support. This person can also take notes and help you remember what was discussed later.

11. Always be honest with your doctor. You may not like to admit how much you drink, or smoke, or if you have stopped taking your medication because of expense or side effects, but your doctor needs to know about these and other lifestyle matters to ensure you are receiving optimum care.

12. Ask you doctor to explain any test results to you, Request a copy of the results for your own files.

13. Before you leave, be sure you understand what needs to happen next. Do you need any further diagnostic tests? When will you get the results? If you have just received a diagnosis, what are your treatment options? If you have questions or concerns later how should you contact your doctor? You can also ask if your doctor recommends any specific reading materials or websites about your condition.

14. If you have been given a prescription for a new medication, do you understand how and when the medication should be taken? Are there any side-effects, for example drowsiness, you should watch for? How will you know if the medication is working? What happens if you miss a dose?

15. After your visit, review and file your notes along with any test results or other documentation and billing you received. Schedule any follow up tests or appointments right away.

Your relationship with your doctor is one of the most important you have. Advance preparation will help you use your own time and your doctor’s time more efficiently and effectively. When people take an active role in their care, research shows they are more satisfied and do better in how well treatments work. Preparing for your doctor’s visit is an important step toward becoming a partner in your own health care and a better advocate for your health and well-being.

Least Invasive First

Dr. Winn Sams

Dr. Winn Sams

Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Winn Sams, D.C. Dr. Sams practices in Columbus, NC a small town snuggled in the foothills of the western part of the state.  A native of Charlotte, NC with a B.A. in Economics from the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, Dr. Sams graduated from Sherman College of Chiropractic in 2002 summa cum laude and valedictorian of her class. From her own experience where personal health directives and choices were not heard nor respected, she decided to create a site where uniqueness and diversity could be anchored in healthcare. Being a healthcare provider, she knew how important it is for the “whole” person to be not only known, but included in a plan of care. Thus, Least Invasive First was born.

Recently, my youngest daughter broke her right arm and dislocated her elbow. The ER referred her out to an orthopedist nearby. We showed up at the appointment with a lot of questions and wanting to know what our options were. The doctor entered the room, did not make eye contact with me nor my daughter’s friend, who was sitting next to me. His handshake was a mere extension of his hand to us (friend and myself), kind of like a king might do to his subjects to kiss his ring. He said he would like to order a CT scan of my daughter’s elbow and do surgery. I asked were there any other options and he said “No” and that he would be back in a few minutes. He never came back, but his nurse showed up to schedule the surgery. I was furious and let her know my dissatisfaction, clearly acknowledging that it wasn’t her fault, but we would not be coming back.

Now, you have to understand I am a Doctor of Chiropractic. I see patients every day and I would never treat anyone the way we were treated. There was no informed consent , no shared decision making in developing a treatment and no respect for who my daughter was (or us for that matter) as a unique person seeking care. EVERYONE deserves all of the above! So, we left that office and made an appointment with another Orthopedist, who was absolutely fabulous. Our experience was night and day from the first one. We felt like we were a part of creating our plan of care, throughout the whole appointment and were at peace with the planned surgery, leaving there feeling like we were in good hands.

My concern is this. When we are in pain or an emergency situation, we usually are not thinking straight. We just want someone to help us get out of pain and/or tell us what is wrong. We may accept the first Doctor that we encounter, as he/she knows more than us. As far as what a Doctor is taught in school, the knowledge of how the body works and their expertise/experience, that is true. HOWEVER,  the patient still has to be included in the whole process, otherwise, you are giving your power over to someone to do as they deem fit TO you. That is a recipe for disaster.

Data and evidence based science measure outcomes that can be repeated. That is a big help when trying to choose a plan of action, but healing and how our bodies RESPOND to said procedures or medications is not an exact science. This is where our uniqueness comes in. Some people are allergic to medications or do not need to start out with the highest dose, as their bodies may actually react unfavorably to what may be the standard practice. Some people would like to try other options first, if possible. In the best interest of all, seeing how that choice works and then moving on to more invasive choices if necessary. It is imperative that your Doctor know as much about ALL of you to make the best plan of care. But, you don’t have to back down or be ashamed of your choices if they don’t match up with your provider’s. Remember, a Doctor is only a person ( yes, just a person like you and I) who has certain training and experience in particular fields. You cannot assume that your Doctor has your best care in mind, when they don’t have a clear picture of who you are on all fronts.

So, with all of this in mind, I developed a site called Least Invasive First,, where you can keep all of your advance health directives and info in one place, with everything digitally accessible at any time. You can upload forms and/or pictures into your profile that provide information, that in especially stressful times, you have available at the click of a button. Medications can be listed with dosage, so you can edit them as they change. You can also give your username and password information to a family member, so they have access to your information if you are unresponsive or not able to make decisions for yourself. There are a lot of creative ways that this service can be used.

Fortunately, this concept works well for the Doctor and/or hospital side too. I have interviewed many of both and all have voiced a resounding affirmation that information the patient provides would be a tremendous help. I am glad to offer a way to potentially change healthcare and it starts with you!