Posts

Starting the Year Empowered #patientchat Highlights

On Friday, January 11th, we hosted an Empowered #patientchat on starting the new year off empowered. This time of year is a good time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the new year – including being empowered in your health.

Being an empowered patient can have many different definitions, but most include patients taking an active role in their health by furthering their education on disease and treatment options, participating in shared decision-making with healthcare professionals, and advocating for themselves to get the best care they deserve.

The Top Tweet Takeaways…

 

You Are the Expert of YOU

Inspire by Example

Organization is Key


Full Conversation

(Self)Knowledge = (Em)Power(ment)

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne

Finding yourself sitting on an exam table, or lying in a hospital bed, can be scary. Annual well-check visits to your primary care doc are one thing, but if one of those visits starts you on a journey through the maze of treating a diagnosis of cancer, or Parkinson’s, or [insert name of life-changing condition here], you find yourself feeling pretty overwhelmed.

My mantra has long been “be your own best advocate.” I learned this from my parents, who were e-patients long before that term was even coined. When I started my own cancer treatment journey ten years ago, I sprang into self-advocacy mode even before I had a confirmed diagnosis. I asked questions, worked to understand the answers, pressed for clarification when I needed it, on a “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle throughout the months between mammogram the end of active treatment; that process continues to today.

Since I just got my 10 Year Cancer-versary mammogram today (January 11, 2018), I figured my January PEN post would be a great place to share some of my how-to on being your own best healthcare advocate.

Let’s start with the basics, questions you can ask in any healthcare setting when a nurse or doctor outlines an issue, and a treatment plan for that issue, with you. This is straight from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the National Patient Safety Foundation – they call it Ask Me 3:

  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?

This will work for anything from an upper respiratory infection to a badly sprained ankle to a hypertension diagnosis. It helps you learn more about the issue at hand, and opens up a dialogue where you can add information about your medical history, your family history, your preferences about medical treatment, and any concerns you have about treatment outcomes and side effects. e-Patient Health Literacy 101, if you will. The Ask Me 3 program link above includes some really superb health literacy materials, too. I encourage you to read through them, and to share them with your family and your community. I’m all about “the more you know” in healthcare.

If you want some e-Patient Health Literacy 201 questions to take to your next doctor’s appointment, I put together a handout I call the Must Ask List. I use this one-sheet constantly, at healthcare events where I’m invited to speak and in webinars where I share my thinking on patient engagement, health literacy, and health system innovation. Please feel free to use and share it – if you have questions you’d like to see added to it, let me know.

It takes a village to change the world. In the global village working to improve human health, it’s critical that we all share what we’ve learned, and look to learn from others with expertise in both the getting, and the giving, of medical care.

Doctors + patients x knowledge sharing = health and healthcare system improvement at light speed.

That’s my formula, and I’m sticking to it!

Health Literacy – Bedrock of Empowerment

The Internet is a wonderful thing. It helps people across the globe connect, communicate, and argue about everything from the Oxford comma to what’s really in a hot dog. Full disclosure: I’m all about the Oxford comma, and avoid hot dogs because I don’t like nitrites.

I come from the time before the Internet – in other words, I’m well over 50 – but as a journalist I embraced digital technology as soon as it arrived (for me, that was 1980), and have been using it to fact-check ever since. Which is why I view health literacy as the foundation of patient empowerment, and helping build health literacy as the mission of empowered, activist patients worldwide. And why I view the Internet as our best tool for health literacy building, personal and community.

Because health literacy requires a grasp of basic science, it can feel challenging to someone who didn’t love biology class, or who found themselves floundering in physics lab. That’s where patient communities really shine: helping newly diagnosed folks figure out what the heck that was that the doctor said, or how to read a lab report, or why [insert condition here] even showed up in the first place.

Here is what I consider the Top 3 Things for yourself and your family’s health literacy building:

  1. Know your risks. What is your family’s health history? Is there a line of folks who lived to 80+, or a family history of heart disease and stroke? Did you grow up in an area with a lot of industrial pollution? What’s your personal health history (asthma, sports injuries, etc.)? Knowing these things can help you, and your clinical team, set up an “early warning system” to monitor your health status.
  2. Write it down. Once you start gathering information, write it down. You can keep it as simple as a composition book, or as complex as a spreadsheet. The key is to keep records that you can share with your doctors, and your family, to keep everyone informed. There are online services, including mobile apps, which can help you do this. A good overview of that whole universe is on the MyPHR site.
  3. Read all about it. When you have data (the information from #1 and #2), you can start turning that data into knowledge. Learn, from trustworthy, science-based sites like Medscape, MedLinePlus, and com, what the straight scoop is on symptoms and treatments for pretty much any disease or condition that affects humans. Add Health News Review to your reading list for solid myth busting on the latest medical miracles (spoiler: they’re usually not miracles) by health journalists with years of experience. Bonus tip: if you’re looking for cost information on specific treatments, check out Clear Health Costs.

You now have three things to get you started. You’ll see more on the health literacy topic from me in the coming months, and I welcome your questions and topic suggestions. Let’s learn, teach, and share, together!

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.

(O)-P-Q-R-S-T

  • 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, www.leastinvasivefirst.org, 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!

 

 

 

How to Develop a Personal “Medical Résumé”

When people are applying for jobs, they develop a résumé. This document has all the important details regarding their work history, education, etc. Patients need a résumé too! However, patient résumés are different. Employment résumés are created to get great jobs; medical résumés are created to acquire great healthcare experiences.

In early 2007, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. My mother also had many other medical issues, including diabetes, hypertension, colon cancer and atrial fibrillation. My mother was on many medications and saw many different doctors from various health systems. It was challenging managing my mother’s care, until I developed two pieces of paper that changed everything! I created the “medical résumé.”

According to the Joint Commission, the organization that accredits healthcare organizations, the biggest cause of medical errors is botched handoffs. A handoff is a transition of care, such as going from a hospital to a rehab center. Patients could play a vital role in ensuring safe handoffs via the medical résumé. My mother experienced many handoffs, and I was able to avert many errors through the medical résumé. After my mother was handed off, I would always review my mother’s pertinent medical history and provide a copy of her medical résumé. I lost track of how many times I heard this statement, “This is a life-saving tool. I wish all patients had a medical résumé!” Healthcare organizations have volumes of information on each patient. The medical résumé helps them quickly see all the most important details.

Develop your medical résumé in the form of an electronic file. This can be accomplished easily via a word processing system. The information can be simply updated at any time. Always keep in mind the golden rule of electronic files, have a backup copy!

Below are some suggested items to include in your medical résumé. A medical résumé looks exactly like an employment résumé! I developed the look of my medical résumé based on the appearance of my business résumé. Have major headings with bullet points; just like this article! You want to make it very easy for professionals to quickly and accurately review your information. It may seem like a challenge to include all this information on just two pages. However, you’ll be very surprised as to how much information you can pack into two pages!

Contact Information

At the top of your medical résumé, include the following information:

  • Full name, address, city/state/zip, landline/cell phone numbers and email address
  • Personal data including date of birth, social security number and any patient identification numbers from your medical centers

Insurance Information

Include company names, phone numbers and account numbers.

Allergies

Since allergies could be life threatening, it is important that they be listed early on in your medical résumé. I am allergic to sulfa drugs and scan dyes. I used to just mention these two items; however I found healthcare professionals wanted details. They would often ask what kind of reaction I had – a slight rash or a serious reaction that resulted in a hospitalization? I now include brief but significant details about my reactions and you should too.

Medications 

List all the medications you are taking. Do not assume that all healthcare professionals are familiar with your medications and their uses. In addition to pills, also include inhalers, injectable therapies, drops, and ointments. For each medication, include the following:

  • Medication name (be specific, don’t simply say “high blood pressure pill”)
  • Purpose of medication (for example, “used to treat Type II Diabetes”)
  • Dosage
  • Frequency (e.g., number of times taken per day)
  • Pharmacy contact information

Illnesses and Surgeries

This is a place to list significant illnesses and surgeries. You do not need to include every cold you had in your life! For each major illness or surgery, include the following:

  • Type of issue (e.g., knee replacement surgery, prostate cancer)
  • Date of issue (include month and year)
  • Treatments (e.g., surgery, radiation, specific chemo drugs, etc.)
  • Current status (mention if you are in active treatment or when treatment was completed)

Physicians

For each of your current physicians, list the following:

  • Full name (do not just say “Dr. Smith”)
  • Area of medicine (e.g., internist, oncologist, etc.)
  • Location / hospital affiliation
  • Phone number

Emergency Contacts

Include the person’s name, relationship and mobile phone number.

In addition to the personal medical résumé consider developing a family medical history document. Our family developed this type of document, which proved very useful when seeing a new healthcare professional. Also, if appropriate, have an electronic copy of Power of Attorney documents. My brother and & I were my mother’s Power of Attorney. We had an electronic file of this document and could easily print when it was requested.

Medical résumés get the job done!

Cindy Chmielewski Talks About Clinical Trials

Cindy Chmielewski, a leader in multiple myeloma patient activism and empowerment, talks with Carol Preston about what she has learned about clinical trials from being a multiple myeloma patient. Cindy believes that patients should seriously consider trials as an excellent treatment option and should discuss the availability of trials with their medical team. Carol and Cindy discuss tips on how to become a more informed patient through multiple platform research, such as online resources, social media or attending seminars.

Watch the full video below to learn more from a forefront member in patient education advocacy.

Cindy Chmielewski talks about clinical trials from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A European Patient Advocate Speaks Out

(Editor’s Note: Christine Bienvenu is on the Board of Trustees of our sister organization in Switzerland, the Patient Empowerment Foundation)

ePatient Advocacy

patient advocate

Christine Bienvenu

In hindsight, I can honestly say that my ePatient advocacy started in 2008, when my eldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. With Switzerland rather behind (at the time) in its knowledge about – and treatment of – Asperger’s, I could only find information and communities online that was based in North America. With absolutely nothing like it available here in Switzerland, I decided to create an online platform; today, we are some 300 members who care, share, and support. Our son is thriving in the mainstream schooling system, thanks to our advocating, as parents, for him.

In 2010, my world imploded when four words were uttered: “Triple-Negative breast cancer” (TNBC). Within a year, I’d had 6 rounds of aggressive chemo and a double mastectomy. As for my son, I became my own advocate in TNBC, reading, researching, and asking questions, connecting online with breast cancer patient communities in North America.

There was nothing like it here in French-speaking Switzerland. Health Care Social Media (HCSM)? Unheard of. Patients as partners? Nope. Online patient communities? Way too virtual. While indeed outstanding, the Swiss healthcare system today is highly paternalistic.

So there I was, trying to come to terms with my triple-negative diagnosis, with no local online community to connect with, yet wanting to be able to make empowered, well-informed decisions, and desperately hungry for support from patient peers and access to quality content.

 Social Media and Online Community Expert

Time and treatments marched on. With it, my passion and interest in digital health, HCSM, and patient empowerment grew exponentially – so much so that I became a certified Social Media and Online Community Expert. My thesis involved creating a social media ecosystem with multiple channels (blog, Facebook group & page, Twitter account & LinkedIn page) that would concentrate all breast cancer-related information for French-speaking Switzerland into one easily-accessible space, open 24/7…

A few good girlie brainstorming sessions later, “Seinplement Romande(s)” was born. For those who don’t speak French, “sein” means “breast”. “Simplement” means “simply”. Melding the two, I created “Seinplement”, playing on the notion of the breast and simplicity. The word “Romand(e)s” is a nod to the French-speaking Swiss. As soon as it was launched, the platform took off. Today, members from a number of French-speaking countries are able to connect.

Two weeks before I was due to defend my thesis, I found out I had relapsed. Let my cancer get in the way of earning my diploma?? I.Think.Not. I defended my thesis. And then tackled another 15 rounds of chemo and 28 rounds of radiotherapy. The cancer was knocked into remission by year-end.

HCSM Patient Expert

During my treatments, I focused on promoting patient advocacy and empowerment through social media, connecting with the communities I had founded, meeting ePatient Dave deBronkart and volunteering to translate his “Let Patients Help!” book into French (“Impliquons les Patients”, available on Amazon), attending classes, speaking at international conferences (including the digital health conference, “Doctors 2.0 & You” in Paris in June 2014 and June 2015), and meeting with medical professionals keen on empowering today’s patient. In the meantime, I’ve been hired as Health Care Social Media (HCSM) Patient Expert by both the Geneva University hospital and the Lausanne outpatient university clinic.

On this journey, I’ve seen the importance of having an open-minded, communicative medical team. Last spring, I changed my entire medical team. Trust me: Not easy here, where respect for the “White Coat” is both deeply ingrained and rarely challenged. As hard as it was to do, that very change may have just saved my life…

Access to Clinical Trials

This past July, I yet again relapsed. This time, my new oncologist is young, dynamic, open to participative medicine and shared decision-making. She’s also a researcher. The advantage? Access to clinical trials. In fact, she had the wisdom to do a biopsy to see if my Triple Negative status had changed, and indeed it has: I am now HER2 positive.

Thanks to her discovery, I can benefit from a more targeted treatment plan – something I wouldn’t have had access to if I had still be considered a Triple Negative patient. Only Time will tell. I’ve only just begun my treatments. What I do know, though, is that I will do everything in my power to keep up with advocating for patient empowerment.

Does Patient Empowerment Lead to Better Cancer Treatment Outcomes?

According to a study presented at the World Congress of Psycho-Oncology (WCPO) in late July, 72.3% of patients diagnosed with cancer defer their treatment decisions to their doctor. While this number is not surprising, it is cause for concern.

With a diagnosis of cancer comes a barrage of possible options for treatment. Often, choosing between these options can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially as there is typically not a clear answer and many uncertainties in terms of potential outcome.

How can we help patients navigate these tough decisions, such as whether or not to get a second opinion or participate in a clinical trial? How can we help patients gain the confidence they need and help them feel empowered and in control as they discuss treatment options with their healthcare team?

 Helping patients self-advocate

A survey done last year by Patient Power of 1295 chronic cancer patients showed that 73% of those
surveyed said the health information they found online helped them feel more confident and more in control of their health (see infographic at the end of this post). Learning about your illness from experts and from other patients can be a rewarding and empowering experience.

Organizations such as the Cancer Support Community (CSC) and others, including us at the Patient Empowerment Network (PEN), offer programs to help patients stand up and advocate for themselves and become informed so that they, in partnership with their heath care team, can make the right decisions for them.

Programs and resources designed to empower patients

The study presented at WCPO found that educational workshops, such as the CSC’s Frankly Speaking About Cancer program, that aim to educate and empower those affected by cancer can have dramatic outcomes in terms of patient confidence in making treatment decisions. In fact, the study found that as a result of attending a Frankly Speaking About Cancer workshop, 85.5% of respondents reported having increased confidence in discussing treatment options and making treatment- related decisions with their health care team. (Harvey, et al 2015)

 

Live audience at a recent town meeting for patients

Live audience at a recent town meeting for patients

PEN’s Town Halls and Patient Café programs give patients and carers tools and resources to discuss treatment options, including clinical trial participation, with their doctor and their family and make informed and empowered decisions throughout their illness.

Participant surveys from these meetings are overwhelmingly positive. Over 80% typically rate the event as good to excellent, and many write in emails like the following:

 

 

“Thank-you for all you do and have done to help those of us with CLL better understand this journey we are traveling.   The information you give is such a great help when I talk with my doctors and just for peace of mind in better understanding what I am facing.  Mary”

Answering your questions about clinical trials

In addition to helping facilitate conversations about treatment decisions, PEN offers a comfortable and convenient place to find user-friendly information about clinical trials. One of our goals is to help you understand the process by introducing you to people just like you who have participated in, or are considering participating in, clinical trials. We also offer opportunities to hear from doctors, nurses, caregivers, caseworkers and others about their perspective on what it means to participate in a clinical trial.

Patients helping patients

"Powerful Patients" at a recent town meeting

“Powerful Patients” at a recent town meeting

There are many resources available to help patients navigate their journey and we encourage you to take full advantage of them. If you can’t find what you need, don’t hesitate to reach out to let us know how we can better help you. And, most importantly, please remember, you are not alone. We stand beside you as a community of patients helping patients.

 

 

 

 

Patient Power Infographic

Sources:

http://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/General-Documents-Category/Research-and-Training-Institute/Posters-and-Presentations/Factors-Influencing-Treatment-Decisions-Among-Cancer-Patients.pdf

http://www.patientpower.info/about/survey-results-2014

 

 

Patient-Selected Controlled Clinical Trials: A Valid Proposal

Lagging patient accrual numbers for cancer clinical trials has always been an issue. In a previous post, I mentioned several reports that showed that the current system of enrollment for clinical trials just isn’t working for patients, researchers or sponsors from pharmaceutical companies.

In the current issue of the ASCO Post, Jim Omel, MD and Karl Schwartz, MFA have written a great article proposing a new type of clinical trial: A Patient-Selected Controlled Trial.

The authors explain that this approach is not meant to replace the randomized controlled trial design “when it’s feasible and ethical to use it”. They suggest that it be used as “an additional tool to consider when comparing treatments for cancer, such as (but not limited to) when the compared interventions have very different risks, or when both treatment protocols can be used off-study.”

CityofHope0897The patient-selected controlled trial would let the patient decide whether to be randomly assigned to treatment or to choose the treatment arm they want to be in. Their decision would be based on their personal situation and, most often a detailed discussion with their physician.

This type of trial would most likely result in out of balance study arms. This shortcoming could be mitigated by factors such as the following:

  • This patient-selected design would be more attractive to patients, resulting in larger studies and faster accrual.
  • Statisticians may be able to apply methods to achieve balance – such as limiting accrual in the rapidly enrolling arms
  • Propensity scoring which can anticipate and account for confounding variables in order to adjust for bias may be used in this type of trial.
  • Study doctors can provide or capture the reason for choosing one arm or the other, thereby helping to interpret outcomes and to determine whether a larger study is needed.

and others.

The authors argue their case in part by saying, “We should not let the perfect be ‘the enemy of the good’ – that is, insisting on perfection can result in no improvement at all” In other words, isn’t it better to have a good, complete patient-selected controlled trial with a bias that can be mitigated than wasting time, energy and finances on a randomized controlled trial that has to be terminated because no one shows up.

The authors conclude,

We submit that the patient-selected controlled trial is clearly superior to any randomized clinical trial that is never started because it’s judged to be unfeasible, or to any randomized controlled trial that is terminated because of poor enrollment. What good is a statistically perfect well-designed randomized controlled trial if no one signs up? We hope and expect that the patient-selected controlled trial provides another way to do good science while practicing good medicine.”

Please read the full article here and comment!

 

 

Spotlight on StupidCancer: mHealth Comes to Patient Support Groups

Spotlight

If you are a patient and haven’t yet researched or joined a patient support community, you should.

Communities exist for chronic cancer patients, chronic disease patients, rare disease patients and patients with almost any disease you can think of. Founders of these communities are often patients themselves and started the community with the thought of helping other patients through the medical and emotional maze that comes with the territory of living with a serious illness.

Websites such as Ben’s Friends or HealthUnlocked are networks of different patient communities relating to different diseases. PatientsLikeMe works more like a database with a member login and the ability to search for others with the same disease. It touts more that 250,000 members, and over 2,000 conditions represented.

Imerman Angels offers one-on-one cancer support. Patients are matched one to one with another patient, hopefully who lives nearby, is about the same age, with the same diagnosis and some of the same problems and issues.

And now, there is something more….. StupidCancer, an organization specializing in young adult cancer is developing a mobile app that will match cancer patients globaly, digitally and anonymously, via SMS, one to one, with another cancer patient.

StupidCancer states on its website,

“Stupid Cancer ….empowers those affected by young adult cancer through innovative and award-winning programs and services. We are the nation’s largest support community for this underserved population and serve as a bullhorn for the young adult cancer movement.” 

Adolescents and young adults account for 72,000 new cancer diagnoses each year. What better than a cool mobile app to appeal to the younger generations? StupidCancer’s Instapeer is an app that works much like an online dating service. You can screen and filter and choose, all anonymously, to be matched to another cancer patient in order to converse, support and help one another through living with cancer. See the Instapeer images below to get a feel for how the app works:

Instapeer screen shots

Instapeer screenshot2

Instapeer screenshot 3

StupidCancer feels that current cancer peer matching services need a 21st century makeover – a more relevant process that is in sync with today’s empowered healthcare consumer.

The Instapeer campaign on Indiegogo claims that Instapeer is for any cancer patient, but it will most likely appeal to the younger and more tech-savvy candidates.

The Indiegogo page lists the medical advisors involved in the development process and also offers numerous “perks” for contributions of increasing amounts.

I spoke with Matthew Zachary at Stupid Cancer and asked him how he came up with the idea.

“No one else was doing it. It’s a revolutionary idea that young cancer patients are really excited about. At the recent OMG Cancer Summit for young adults this year, when I assured the audience that we would have an app by Labor Day, Instapeer got a standing ovation.”

StupidCancer anticipates 500,000 users adopting Instapeer by 2016.

Resources:

http://www.csrwire.com/press_releases/36244-Stupid-Cancer-s-Instapeer-Mobile-Health-App-Set-to-Revolutionize-Cancer-Support

 

How Chronic Cancer Patients Use Social Media to Stay Informed

New research and treatment has made many cancers that were previously terminal now chronic. Patients live with the condition and daily go about their lives. But often, they do have to manage their cancer and often they worry about reoccurrence, side effects from medication and progression of the disease.

The chronic patient is often “forgotten”.  They are under treatment, doing (fairly) well, and doctors and the media are focusing on the more urgent issue of treating the acute or advanced cancer patient.

Chronic cancer patients want to know and understand their disease.  They would like a cure and they seek out the newest and latest information online looking for answers on treatment options, and how to best live with their disease.

Where can chronic cancer patients go for help online?

There are numerous sites for help with living with chronic cancer.  Many are disease-specific, offering news about new treatments or research.  There are several good video channels that offer interviews with cancer specialists about treatments, clinical trials or other information on specific cancers.  There are patient support networks and numerous Facebook pages that offer patients the opportunity to connect with other patients and post discussions about all aspects of their disease.

There is an overwhelming amount of information online and often, it is difficult to sift through all of it.

I have listed a few of these sites below.  In no way is this a comprehensive list, but I have asked several cancer patients and opinion leaders for their input and have added their thoughts to the list.

Resources for Chronic Cancer Patients

Cancer.gov

CLL Global

Patient Power

CanCare

Oncology Tube

National CML Society

Leukemia Lymphoma Society

Patients Against Lymphoma

CLL Topics

Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research

The Myeloma Crowd

International Myeloma Foundation

 

Facebook groups

Essential Thrombocythemia

Myeloproliferative Neoplasms

Polycythemia Vera & Budd-chiari Syndrome Awareness

 MPN Forum

Myeloproliferative Neoplasms 

 

Patient Opinion Leaders and Advocates

Another great way to obtain information on chronic cancers is to follow patient opinion leaders (POLs) on social media channels.  These patients have been living with their specific cancer (or cancers) for some time and have spoken about their experience (often publically), written books and articles about it, formed groups or even organizations or companies around chronic cancer.  They have Facebook pages, tweetchats, blogs, video programs and websites.  They organize patient meetings, interviews with physician specialists and events around their illness.  They have the experience and know-how to conduct excellent informational programs for other patients; they are a wonderful source of information.

Image

Andrew Schorr, @Andrew Schorr, founder of PatientPower and author of the Web Savvy Patient has been in remission from Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia since 2001.  In 2012, he was diagnosed with a second cancer, myelofibrosis.  Andrew now leads a normal life, thanks to a new targeted oral therapy.  He has been a leader in patient education since 1984 and is considered to be one of the most respected and reputable Patient Opinion Leaders.

When I asked Andrew why he did what he did, he responded,

“I feel a responsibility to try to help other patients do better because of something I’ve learned through my experience. While others might wish to protect their privacy I “go public” with the hope to ease the journey of other cancer patients like myself. It helps me feel I am doing something significant and helps all of us know we are not alone, but rather a real community.”

Patient Advocates also help other patients by coaching them through living well and coping with their disease.  They use social media to spread the word about their illness and educate patients around the world.

Image

I also spoke with Cindy Chmielewski, @MyelomaTeacher, a former elementary school teacher and a multiple myeloma patient that is now a patient advocate for the disease.  Cindy is on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Multiple Myeloma Support where she is in charge of the Patient Education Library and Patient Advocacy. – She speaks at support groups, tweets about myeloma, and participates in several online support communities.

When asked why she did what she did, Cindy answered,

“Everyone needs a purpose in life.  Being a teacher for 28 years before my medical retirement I knew my purpose in life was to be a facilitator of information. When I regained my strength after my Stem Cell Transplant opportunities began to fall into my lap. I had some very good mentors when I was newly diagnosed. I am very grateful that I able to pay it forward. Sharing what I learn gives my cancer experience a purpose. Using social media allows me to reach a larger audience.  I am still a teacher, but now I teach a new subject with different students. We are all in this together and we can gain strength from one another. My life once again has meaning”. 

The Power of Social Media

Social media has drastically changed the idea of patient empowerment. Patients all over the world can connect, educate themselves and their family members, network, and instruct and educate others. And they are doing just that. The day of the passive patient is over: Welcome, empowered patient!

Image

Patient Power!

This post was originally published on HealthWorks Collective

Events

Coming Soon

Please check back soon as we work to build more resources.