Monday, November 25, 2013

Smart, Caring People Changing the World

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

These days, the news is filled with stories about the political strife surrounding the Affordable Care Act rollout. As I listen and read, I worry that individuals in need--who are dealing with their own and their family members’ illnesses--are being given short shrift in a debate driven by poll numbers, congressional races, and ideology. Yet I still have hope about the future of healthcare.  That’s because I spent two days last week with Accolade’s newly formed Medical Advisory Board. These renowned healthcare professionals came together to discuss ways to improve the care we provide and, despite their national prominence and expertise in health policy, were totally focused on how these policies and programs affect individuals and their families.

I admit to being a bit awestruck by the people who sat together to discuss ways that we at Accolade could better help people in need.  

  • Dr. Joseph Betancourt, the director of the Disparities Solutions Center, director of Multicultural Education for Massachusetts General Hospital, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and an expert in quality of care, disparities, and cross-cultural care and communication talked about ways to better help people by understanding their unique cultures
  • Dr. Samuel (Buddy) Hammerman,  senior vice president and chief medical officer for Select Medical—where he oversees the company's division of 110 long-term acute care hospitals—uses his expertise in pulmonary medicine and critical care to ensure that every single patient in these facilities receives excellent care.
  • Dr. Larry Kaiser, the CEO of the Temple University Health System, senior executive vice president for the Health Sciences, and dean of Temple University School of Medicine, is a world-renowned chest surgeon and the co-author of more than 13 books and 250 papers, but he is as deeply concerned about the high-needs population his health system serves as he is about the academic responsibilities of research and training new dedicated health professionals.
  • Dr. Bruce Korf, chair of the Department of Genetics, and director of the Heflin Center for Genomic Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is focused on children and families who deal every day with the challenges of complex genetic diseases, including neurofibromatosis; he spoke of the need to better address families with these challenges.
  • Dr. Andrew Lasher, chief medical officer of Aspire Healthcare, is one of the nation’s bright lights in palliative care and a physician totally dedicated to using compassion when caring for the dying.
  • Dr. Adam Perlman, associate vice president for Health and Wellness for the Duke University Health System, and executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine, is working to meld alternative medicine and the best of academic medicine into results for the most difficult patient problems.
  • Dr. Saul Weiner, professor of medicine, pediatrics and medical education and vice provost of planning and programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago as well as deputy director of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Center of Innovation for Complex Chronic Healthcare is conducting cutting-edge research on how the context of life issues impacts the delivery of care; he has begun to change the conversations about what “best care” really is. 

We were also joined by Dr. Tanya Benenson, the corporate medical director for Comcast NBCUniversal; she worries about the health of the Comcast call center worker while at the same time she worries about the talented individuals NBC has working around the world. 

Throughout the time together, these smart caring people talked about individual patient cases and how to better help them. 

We discussed the 50-year-old man, originally from Cuba, whose wife had recently died of cancer; he had a history of drug abuse, was on anticoagulation for heart disease, and had diabetes.  This man was having trouble communicating with his doctors and was therefore not taking his medications as he should, but was too proud to admit his difficulties.  The Accolade nurse who helped him got to know him, talking with him in both English and Spanish, gaining his trust and changing his life as his medical illnesses and his behavioral illnesses came under closer control.  Our Medical Advisory Board sat listening and shared their insights on how to improve his care even more.

We discussed the woman dying of ovarian cancer, and the need to incorporate her large family in the discussion as she moved into hospice care.  The Accolade nurse talked about the trust she formed with this woman as she helped the person accept her diagnosis and prognosis and how her last days were made better by being open with her family.  She discussed the work done to help this woman move to hospice care in order to have more quality time with her son.  The national leaders around the table were as energetic and thoughtful about those individuals as they were about how to improve a nation’s healthcare system.

Over and over, I see the best and the brightest people in healthcare sharing the perspective of the individual and the family in need.  This week I was again reminded that healthcare is not about politics, but about people’s lives, and the real leaders in health understand this and incorporate that compassion and focus on families into everything they do.