Thursday, 29 September 2016

"I Had a Nightmare Dream"

Here's a conversation about pain between two good friends who gave me permission to use their words, and whose names are changed.

"I had a nightmare type dream where I was in a car with others and I lost control on a curve.  I regained control quite quickly and no one was hurt.  Now that's quite a telling dream, huh?"

That's what one of my support group friends reported when she woke up in the morning with her feet and lower legs hurting like the dickens - she said they were "on fire". So she took her pain med and looked forward to feeling better because she had a busy day planned...

With a forecast for strong thunderstorms, a high of 90 and very high humidity she blamed some of it on the weather. She said "I wish my doc would let me take more medication on the bad days but he is worried about the changes in the brain that opioids make."

"Oh well...when I hurt enough I guess I will complain louder."

Gail replied "I do wish the doctor would listen to what you’re saying about the pain Robin. I’d say, what about what the constant pain does to the brain and how you feel in yourself?

Gail went on to comment that she had one of those days yesterday where the pain meds just didn’t cut it; by the afternoon she felt awful, stiff and painful and the fatigue hit super hard. I held off but relented with extra pain meds by 6pm and my evening was much better. Does anyone else have days like that where you’re literally counting the minutes to the next pain med dose?" 

Robin told us "Out of the 24 hours I get relief for approximately 8 if you consider how long it takes for the med to reach all the brain sensors for pain and then the time it begins to start back to "normal".  I was counting the hours yesterday to when I could take the second. 

Exactly Robin, replied Gail. Which pain med are you on? I’m on Di-hydrocodeine and that takes 50-60 minutes to metabolize in the liver. I then get between 4-6 hours before they wear off. I do know what you mean too about how fascinating it is, the way one day your elbow for example can be in absolute agony and then next day, nothing! Sometimes hour to hour is like that, it’s a crazy disease for sure

I am on hydromorphone 2mgs.  I feel better today. So I was able to sleep from 7-9 but it wasn't refreshing sleep.  I'm not sure I will ever have that again. 

I know my friends use a variety of methods to stay mobile, to distract themselves from the pain socializing and doing creative activities and yet this is not always enough. 

Another member of our group takes a very low dose pill usually only once a day, and yet despite the fact that she is stable and also almost 80 she is forced to make an extra visit to the doctor every month to get a new prescription. he feels he is doing her a favour because she is his only patient on any opiod at all and if he did not do this she would be forced to go to a pain clinic.

Things are getting very difficult for patients with chronic pain who just want to be able to function for at least part of the day. Every drug we take has an inherent risk of course. If I could not take Nsaids I don't know what I would use as an alternative, and yet Nsaids commonly cause cardiovascular and stomach problems, especially as you age. The alternative medications for pain are all risky and we are being warned about almost every painkiller.

It seems that patients are more and more expected to find their own remedies and many of us are very skilled in using every strategy we find already. Where do we go from here?

I actually saw an article where orthopedic surgeons were discussing cutting back on strong painkillers. I will admit I could do with less than a week's worth usually, but don't even try t talk to me about mindfullness two days after one of my joints has been fused or reconstructed.

This post is part of RA Blog Week. More blogs on this topic can be found here.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Dfferent Route To a New Treatment

My road to a biologic drug was different than most I think. Building on my experience as an active patient who often searched for information online, I found an educational resource for doctors online years ago. They are also called CMEs which stands for Continuing Medical Education and have changed in format now.

Though they are meant for doctors, anyone could participate and the format was great. After every few pages there was a quiz, so I could check that I was absorbing the information.

That was the way I learned about the results of the Premier Trial and others that were similar. The conclusions that stuck with me, were those that said anti-TNF drugs improved disease activity and physical function.  What appealed to me most was that biologic drugs were said to give an increased sense of well-being, better physical function, and to decrease erosions and joint damage. I had already seen what joint damage could do and knew I wanted as little as possible. 

After reading these conclusions it seemed to me that my life could be better with more aggressive treatment. With physical symptoms of fatigue and inability to expend energy my life was limited. After working all day I had no energy left for any other aspects of life and I spent my weekends resting and visiting sick relatives. I felt like a doll lying in a room in a dollhouse when there were no kids at home.

Well-being is not something that my doctor ever asked about in his surveys that included the Rapid 5 ( a quick way for doctors to judge disease activity) and HRQL (Health Related Quality of Life)  measurements. Fatigue was not part of them.

Now we see Patient Related Outcomes (the results patients think are important) becoming far more important in treatment decisions and clinical trials for chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. This change is recent and similar to 'treat to target' which is another phrase you may have seen online, far more than in doctor's offices.

I was convinced, but next I had to convince my doctor to take another look at my health. In my experience if you show up looking presentable and a bit perky at the Dr's office they think you are doing fine. Getting that re-assessment is difficult if you seem to be coping adequately. As my first GP (who missed my diagnosis) used to day "If it's not broke, don't fix it."

It took a few appointments to do this, which in RA terms translates to more than a year.  I had to "fail" on another DMARD so that the insurance company would be satisfied. If the new DMARD had worked it would have been great but it didn't. 

Now I am on a biologic. With it I have more tolerance for exercise and I can do more in a normal day. It did give me a better sense of well-being so I am happier and I think I am healthier too.

For an interesting read have a look at this paper that discusses the qualitative or narrative responses that show the outlook of patients - that is the experiences, attitudes and expectations of people like us about the information they receive before they start anti-TNF therapy

I really liked the paper - it sounded like me

This post is part of RA Blog Week. For more on this topic click here

Monday, 26 September 2016

Same Song, Second Verse - An Active vs Reactive Patient

At first when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis I knew nothing about it beyond what I heard from my (busy) doctor and what I read in a Chatelaine magazine article one year.

Learning how to find reliable information about my own health was complicated by having to google many of the terms I found. At first I thought that I might have a lot of the complications I read about - that was the way I learned what the doctors call "watchful waiting". After a few months with no changes it became obvious what I did not have to worry about. 

This access to the internet has meant we can all find information of any kind, from basic up to scholar or specialist level. This easy availability of information has leveled the field and is changing our traditional ideas of authority.  

Doctors are no longer the only source of facts and ideas about health. Now more patients than ever are comfortable asking informed questions at their appointments, where previously they might have been outside the exam room door before they had a chance to ask their doctor important questions.

The revolving door of healthcare

The individual empowerment that results from knowledge has changed my life in a good way. At the onset, when I was diagnosed I did not do much to help myself for and this lasted about 15 years. I was depressed and anxious and found it hard to deal with the life changes I was forced to accept.

It was encouragement from a physiotherapist and a doctor that started me off on a more active track and now I blog and am active on Twitter. All of those years of experience living with RA had left me with valuable information about how to deal with issues like finding a good team, the benefits of social support, orthotics, physiotherapy…it’s a long list. I wanted to share what I knew so I started to blog about chronic disease. But you can’t just blog – you need readers so I started to tweet links to research studies about Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) that I thought were important.

As I met more people online I started to see opportunities to attend conferences and webinars and I realized that my opinions – that the opinions of patients - have a lot of value in healthcare. Knowing this made me feel empowered and engaged. Attending Medicine X was a huge boost because I found I was not an oddball, just a certain type of a health nerd. 

Now I am on the boards of some patient groups and a member of a variety of committees, from the Community Advisory Committee of my local hospital, to government bodies and also research teams. Even though I loved my previous job, this is even more rewarding.

Being involved with working for changes in the health care system has turned into a real and meaningful passion.  It is great to have the tools to make a difference and to encourage others to get involved.

I loved this acronym I found about learning. SML stands for “self-managed learning”– you can choose your preferred way to learn from a variety of resources like video, webinars, articles and scientific papers. We can all choose to learn at our own speed and level, and patients who learn more often do better in the long term in many ways. 

One that is important is social support. Patient experts and patient groups are good sources of knowledge.

Patient Support Group

This blog is part of RA Week. To see more blogs on this topic click here

Monday, 19 September 2016

Seems Like An Old Story Now

By now I have had arthritis for more than half of my life, so it's hard to even remember feeling normal and healthy.

I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It’s an autoimmune disease that does not affect any of my relatives, including my 50 first cousins.

When my kids were pre-teens I started to have pain and swelling in my wrists, fingers and feet. I was suddenly so tired after work that I would just lie down and feel unable to get up again, even for dinner. 

I was losing weight too but I thought that was because I switched from Pepsi to Diet Coke. 

My GP doctor seemed to think the symptoms were all in my head. When I said I was extremely tired he said "You're a busy active Mom."  When I told him about my foot pain he said it was because I was on my feet a lot. And when I had an oval cyst on the back of my hand he said they used to call them Bible Thumpers, because if you whacked them with the Family Bible they would go away.

My doctor made me feel that I was exaggerating and incompetent and I felt powerless to change the situation. When I left his office I would feel I should try harder but that brief dismissal did not help me at all. I knew there was a problem - sometimes I actually could not stand up first thing in the morning and had to crawl into the bathroom. 

The last time I saw him he told me to take 12 aspirin a day and come back in 3 months. That did not work at all and I still have ringing in my ears caused by all those aspirin.

Walking Gallery Jacket by Regina Holliday reflects this era

The only way I could think of to deal with the problem was to change doctors. Sadly the 2nd Dr. was no help either. The 3rd was actually a foot surgeon who got the right answer less than 5 minutes after I saw him in his clinic.

During that 2 years it took to be diagnosed I developed permanent joint damage in my hands and feet (also jaw and neck as I found out many years later). One seemingly trivial result was that to this day I wear ugly shoes because it’s better than limping. I have had 10 surgeries to maintain my functional abilities but have a weak grip, can’t garden or vacuum and hate to stand a lot even at parties.

I have taken immune suppressant drugs and NSAIDS for the past 30 years and managed to work up until I retired, though I did need to change my job for one that had less physical stress.

That happened in the 80’s so even when I had a name for my health problem all I knew was what I learned from my doctor. This was before home computers were common and with a job and 2 kids I did not have the time or energy to do all I needed to do, let alone go to the library to learn more.

Things are different now. Last week googled my original symptoms “pain in hands and feet, fatigue, swollen joints" and found a million results in total with 7 out of the top 10 links mentioning RA.

Imagine if I had access to that in the 1980s – I might have known very quickly what was wrong and insisted on seeing a specialist. With knowledge we have power, and it is great to see more and more patients becoming very knowledgeable about their own health.

... to be continued in the next post... Active vs Reactive Patients

This post is part of RA Blog Week at the end of Arthritis Awareness Month. To see more blogs on this topic click here

Monday, 1 August 2016

Using Orthotics in Rheumatoid Arthritis

In case you wonder what orthotics or orthoses are, here's a picture of the side view of one of my insoles beside a foot (not mine). With the side view you can see the layers that provide the support and cushioning.

Using insoles that are custom made for my feet has meant less pain, and keeps me from limping most of the time.

This week I read an abstract about a clinical trial done in the UK. It was called "Clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of foot orthoses for people with established rheumatoid arthritis: an exploratory clinical trial". Though I looked for the full paper I could not gain access to it prior to writing this. I have since read the full paper. It makes my conclusions less clear cut.

The conclusion of this trial is that even though "semi-rigid customized foot orthoses can improve pain and disability scores in comparison to simple insoles" that providing them is not worth the money on a Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) basis. 

Fake money for false savings (IMO)

They conclude this despite the fact that people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have "greater difficulty with activities of daily living, increased fear of falling and greater self-reported foot impairment." 1

The pain and disability experienced by people with rheumatoid arthritis who have involvement of their weight bearing joints will frequently lead to damage to the ankles, knees or hips due to poor gait mechanics. 

It is estimated that one in three adults with RA will fall once or more times per year (Stanmore et al, 2013) with younger adults falling as often as older adults. Additionally 68% of people in the UK who have RA are reported to be physically inactive. In fact I have wondered for years why anyone thinks that a "Walk" is a good way to raise funds for RA.

People who have pain and disability when they walk are less able to remain in the workforce, accomplish normal chores and errands and often experience social isolation.

As a person who has been using customized orthotic insoles for over 32 years I would like to say that my experience of these insoles includes 1,664 weeks of use which is 350% more hours than the whole clinical trial in total which included 41 (only 29 completed the study) people for a term of 16 weeks. (464 actual person weeks of usage). 

I realize that the experience of one person is not research - it is qualitative and experiential, and yet the sheer length of time people with RA must live with this pain and disability should not be so easily disregarded. My 1664 weeks provides a perspective on the length of the trial.

Through the use of custom made orthotic insoles I have been able to delay most of the surgeries I have needed for up to twenty years. I would maintain that a 16 week trial is far too short to come  to conclusions about long term efficacy, and that this trial has limited exposure to experiential evidence, based on the short duration and small sample size.

Increased surgery and the future need for custom-made footwear might quickly erode the short term savings that would seem to benefit the healthcare system, while leaving patients with more pain and increased disability.

There is no sign that patients were involved in this trial in any way beyond being subjects. I would like to see some patient involvement in the outcomes that are to be measured in future research.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Help With RA Treatment Decisions: ANSWER-2 or a Decision Aid

My friend commented last week that in 30 years with RA she had never seen the new and far more helpful type of pamphlet or booklet called a Decision Aid. My experience was the same as hers - the only time I ever saw a decision aid was during training to be a Peer Mentor, so that I could be an advisor to people who were newly diagnosed. Decision Aids are are much more useful than an informational pamphlet.

Now imagine how useful it would be to have an interactive decision aid. That's ANSWER-2, a new tool to help patients make decisions about starting a new drug or staying on their current treatment if their doctor has recommended a biologic drug. Right now it is at the prototype stage and it is being tested against a decision aid. The researchers and patients who created it are conducting a randomized controlled trial. If you join you will be testing either ANSWER-2 or the paper based decision aid.

When I was finally diagnosed with RA it was almost two years after I first developed symptoms. At that time I assumed that getting good treatment from a specialist would make me better. I was wrong then, though the treatment did help. The good news is that better results are more likely to happen now than in the 1980's
I was so sick at that time that I believe I would have taken any medical treatment suggested by a doctor to get my life back to what it had been like. I knew next to nothing about rheumatoid arthritis itself, let alone the possibilities for treatment so I did exactly what my rheumatologist suggested.

Things are different now

Before the internet was available to us all, information was scattered and hard to put together. The facts I knew did not form part of a big picture. My doctor would talk about possible new treatments but my part in the decision always slowed down the process by months because I had to find and learn what I needed to know.
It was a puzzle, not a big picture.

When I heard of a way that would help me to make important decisions I was really excited by the idea. Now that a Decision Aid can be an online interactive tool it can be a whole new ball game!

Here's what happened: 
I had reached the point where my doctor suggested it was time to think about a change in the drug I was taking for rheumatoid arthritis. After 30+ years with RA and 8 years on my previous drug, it no longer seemed to be working. 

That made me a candidate to try ANSWER-2 so I volunteered. It was developed by Arthritis Research Canada (ARC) as a research project funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR), and is based on scientific evidence, not information from manufacturers.

That background helped because with government funding I knew that the intention of the tool was not to promote a particular drug. It was also reassuring to me that patients were involved in the development of ANSWER-2 and participated on the research team. 

The program started by asking me about my priorities and what I thought was most important. It helped me to balance the convenience vs my anxiety about a change vs worries over starting a new drug. This was exactly what I remembered going through the first time in other decisions about new drugs.

So with those personal preferences entered, the next area dealt with the potential treatments - On to the decision area! When I saw the possible choices I found that they were ranked in a way that made perfect sense to me.

This is what the first page of ANSWER-2 looks like. Sorry it's little small.

Another benefit in using it was a description of the drugs and the comparison of the risks and benefits of each one laid out right in front of me in columns. That really helped me with my choice.

As I went through the screens I could also watch stories from real patients as a part of the program (I even knew one of them).

Since this is a prototype more people are needed to test it. At this moment the trial is only available in Canada and the US. Participating in the trial will help the investigators learn whether ANSWER-2 or a standard decision aid is more empowering to patients.

To try this out it you must have rheumatoid arthritis and be considering a decision about biologic therapy - whether to start t or to change to another drug. If you are eligible you will randomly be assigned to either the online ANSWER-2 or else a Medication Guide in a pdf version. If you test the pdf you will have access to the online version at the end of the trial.

Click this link to apply if you are in Canada. The heading on the page is "SuPER: Supporting Patient care with Electronic Resource"


For US users please contact Sharan Rai at to enroll in the trial.

For US and Canada: 

To learn more, please contact Jasmina Geldman at or 1-877-871-4575. She can answer all of your questions.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Focus Group Ground Rules:Should They Apply When You Consult Patients?

When you are asked questions before you start a survey, or before you are invited to a focus group for market research you might notice that you are almost always asked a few questions before you can start the survey or be invited to a focus group.

Imagine the topic is banking. You'd be asked:

Do you or does anyone in your family work now or in the past in market research, advertising or media?
Do you now or did you ever work for a financial services provider?

If you said yes to either you would not be invited.

These are the basic questions and they're designed for two things. Sometime to keep the client's competition from learning about the client's plans or to ensure that the other focus group participants are comfortable voicing their opinions.

Focus Group

In the 20 years I spent organizing focus groups this never changed. We often asked our clients for clarification, or a bit of stretching the boundaries to make our job easier but this was never an area where there was flexibility.

When we asked for exceptions the answer we got was this:
As we go around the table and give each person a chance to speak and give their opinion, the dynamics of the discussion change dramatically after someone who is considered an expert gives an opinion on the topic of the group

No one wants to be at odds with the person who is seen to know more than the others because of experience. The person who 'knows the topic' has an overweight influence on the discussion whether they mean to or not.

I heard this point of view from another perspective at the HCSMCA Unconference in Vancouver. In a conversation with Dr. Paul Dempsey he talked about setting up a Moms group on his website so parents could support one another. He found that a lot of the wisdom of  'Dr. Mom' flowed among the participants - until he stepped in. The conversation stopped when he (the expert) started to take part.

This can make a difference when organizations, government or organized groups try to hear from patients. 

Everyone's opinions are valid, but I would suggest that when there is a broad range of experience among patients, especially when some of the patients are or were health care professionals or health care workers, that holding separate focus groups would produce a better range of opinions and include more voices.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Patient Groups - Hard Work and Lots of Questions

Last week I attended the CADTH symposium in Ottawa as a member of the Sjogren's Society of Canada.

You might wonder exactly what CADTH is and why I would want to attend. The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides public healthcare decision-makers with evidence about the appropriate use of drugs and medical devices. Patient input is used in deliberations and decisions.

It is becoming much more important in health care to have the patient, caregiver and public point of view and we see organizations making changes because of this.  Sarah Berglas of CADTH pointed out that 5 yrs ago they asked clinical experts what was important to patients. Now they are asking patients for this information.

To make it easier for patient groups to take part CADTH provides templates and sample submissions on their website to help them.

One of CADTH's aims is meaningful involvement of patients and patient groups in the drug review process.

I heard two important comments about patient submissions:

"Patient experience brings the disease to life" -- Fiona Miller
“The review team has often never met a patient with the disease” -- Frank Gavin

At one of the panels at CADTH, Zal Press of Patient Commando suggested that out of 1682 patient groups, only about 18 have the capacity to make submissions to CADTH to be considered by the Common Drug Review.

Questions that came up: 

How much thought is being given to the cost in terms of time and energy that it takes the patient group to do this?

How can patient groups running on a shoestring with few resources do a drug submission effectively?

Is this small number of groups who make submissions a good representation of the voice of patients and the public generally?

What about the idea of independent financial support for patient groups?
Are we asking too much of patient groups? We invest in clinical evidence, why not patient evidence?

Just the facts? 

Dr Ahmed Bayoumi, who is a member of the Common Drug Expert Committee, asked in the panel whether patient groups have the agency to speak for their patients. 

Dr Bayoumi said with patient submissions the decisions made are better decisions - that statement left patients in the room with questions. How do we know that our submissions really have an impact and can possibly change a decision?

Barry Stein of the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada said he is disappointed that patient experience is most often used to enrich, rather than change, reimbursement and coverage decisions.

Are patient groups working so hard on submissions for drug after drug, just so that the decisions made in meeting can be “better”?

What about the reality that qualitative research and experiential results are heavily discounted in favour of ‘real' evidence from trials and quantitative research?

How often do we call patient experience evidence? Why do we not call it patient evidence? -- Frank Gavin

What terms do we use to describe patient input? Information is a neutral term, but patient information is not seen as data -- Frank Gavin

The panel talked about evidence vs advocacy. We are dichotomizing this form of evidence. How do we incorporate it?

Gail Attara said that understanding the patient perspective is important. "Is a fifth medication for a condition needed?" She answered Yes, if you are a patient for whom the first four didn't work. Also that the patient's individual goals and decisions may not always follow evidence.

Sarah Berglas: Need to work with patients to capture big ideas on acceptability of treatment, "how life is lived, not just survival"

Those of us attending the panel discussion got concrete advice on making our submissions  to the Common Drug Review have more impact and be more useful.

1.     Discussing unmet needs and quality of life is very relevant
2.      Be very specific about therapy, side effects and challenges e.g. efficacy decreases over time.
3.      Include numbers if we have them
4.      Include strong quotes that "hook into people's brains" and illustrate the authentic voice of the patient.

Advice to patient groups on submissions: Be specific in what you include and pick powerful direct quotes. Sarah Berglas, Patient Engagement Officer, CADTH

Ducks in a row
Advice for patient groups from Gail Attara from

If patient groups could make submissions in person it would be more satisfying. Why can't patients comment on draft reports like other experts?

Patient group submissions are heavy on quotes, testimony and voice. Patients have the feeling that lived experience can’t compete with clinical data when the end result is up to the funders. Some patient groups wonder how much of  a difference their input makes.
There is a need to develop patient capacity.

I'm always conscious that patients have no strong networks to enable us to stay in touch and connect in between events like CADTH.

HTA provides the facts: ethics judges the facts. All who are affected need to be heard. Are patient values represented in HTA?
There is limited operational (action-oriented) guidance to assist HTA with the evaluation of ethical issues.

Even at the Plenary we heard this question: How do patient groups organize so they can feed into changes within the health care system?

A slide from Dr Ahmed Bayoumi's presentation

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Arthroplasty of the MCP Joints (New Knuckles)

If you had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosed in the 80's, or if your RA has been very aggressive, you might know the meaning of the title. Otherwise it sounds like medical jargon that you need to go home and google. As an involved patient I always want to know what medical language means.

The story starts with a surgeon who must have been tired of describing procedures to patients. He put up a hand to stop my questions at the first visit, when he laid out a plan that ultimately involved straightening my fingers. 

However when he said this process would take 3 operations that was the end of the road.  With a full time job I could not afford the time to have that much surgery. His plan was to fuse both wrists and then straighten the fingers - I found out on my own that this is the best way to proceed. His explanation of his reasoning was not 'patient-friendly.'

Once I retired I was able to take the time to start with surgeries. The results of operation #1 were very successful, so after a year I went back to have a second wrist fusion. With both wrists immobilized and with the new found ability to turn my hand palm up, I was ready for the grand finale and just in time, because my fingers were getting worse and using them was getting more difficult. 

How much worse? This much

But - when I went back to the surgeon, he said "Too bad you didn't have this done when I suggested it because I'm retiring." Not the most sympathetic doctor, but also not the only one in the city.

Now it's done and I have new knuckles. Despite telling Debby's story of success with this I had doubts, especially when a trusted friend told me that doctors in her city were no longer willing to do this procedure.

However, with a US friend who has RA finding that three of her fingers were so badly displaced that she has lost hand function I carried on.

This is a picture of what I believe my knuckles look like on X-ray now. I don't have an x-ray of my own since the doctor did not do one. Now I have an implant in all 4 of my knuckles (MCP joints).

Silastic implants

You might wonder whether the operation was a success.

It was done ten weeks ago. I started in a cast, then graduated to various splints. Every week the Occupational Therapist would adjust both the night splint and the one I wore during the day. 

The day splint became smaller as I was able to gradually start moving my joints more and to start on a gradually increasing exercise program. I felt that the splinting and the exercise program were as important to the operation's success as the surgery.  

Now I am able to write again and to type faster. The occupational therapist who is still helping me advised me to wear a small splint to keep my fingers straight during the day, and a splint from fingertips to forearm at night. In retrospect I think that the surgery was only half of the procedure - occupational therapy and dynamic splinting was vital for the final success.

Here's the finished product - my hand today! Better than before.

It's a perfect example of the teamwork between professionals that is required for the best results to patients.

Perfection  is impossible, but I expect to be able to use my hand for a lot more years now, and better long-term function was the main reason I had the surgery.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

HCSMCA in Vancouver

The #hcsmca symposium felt like a family reunion, or a live in person tweetchat, from walking in the door of the room in the morning, right until I left for home.

Feels as though we've known one another for a long time

The atmosphere in the (un)conference room was excited and exciting. Robyn Sussel was an excellent moderator and starting with a prayer for the day from Syexwaliya of the Squamish Nation was an inspiring beginning.

Pat Rich talked to us about only building what you can maintain, and quoted @Berci. "I want every medical professional and empowered patient worldwide to feel connected to many others... when they have questions or just need a good word or support.  Social media has the potential to become this bridge between people"

Colleen Young talked about the strong sense of belonging and the give and take in social media - the way the Twitter welcome wagon is ready for anyone. And one of the biggest achievements of social media is that it helps people to take a step back - it breaks down silos, is a fountain of plain language, and creates circles of trust and real conversations. We need that trust to be able to share

So we all came to Vancouver to do more of that, and to try to make a road map to see HCSMCA into the future.

Larry Chu asked us how we use technology to break through silos and achieve mutual trust and inclusivity.

Lee Aase gave us sharing and learning from the Mayo Clinic and talked about how having a group of co-belligerants helps break through the blocks such as patient privacy.  

His point about healthcare shifting and emphasizing respect over power was chosen as one of the top 10 ideas of the day. Larry Chu added to that with "How might we improve healthcare if we focus on respect instead of power?"

Another idea from Lee Aase "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good." and a top idea from Colin Hung "Change the world locally." That one is worthy of a  shirt.

More advice from Colleen Young "Model the behaviour that you want to see and spend time on the people who do model it."

Then with these two memorable statements -
"Take one bite out of the elephant at a time." Robyn Sussel
"The Law of Two Feet - You can move to another group at any time."

- we were ready for 12 challenges in 50 minutes.

I picked Challenge #7: Using social media to advocate for policy change
Deb Maskens submitted it and led the group. It was a real learning experience for me.

We talked about engaging with policy makers, strategic positioning of advocacy, mutually beneficial partnerships, moving from slacktivism to interactivism, the qualitative shift in how people are engaging now.

Incremental change is a key as we ask why research, evidence and common sense do not carry the day. Question: What is respectful political advocacy?
One obstacle noted is that when patient groups meet with the opposition party they lose credibility with the government.

Another important barrier is the structural exclusion of advocates from decision making.

Our group of Canadians using social media, who have a passion for changing the healthcare system, had a very rich discussion about changing the system - in fact we decided to start using a new hashtag (I just checked and we will be the first) #HCsystemChange. 

We sent ourselves a postcard from the future, and since this very useful conference also gave us the ability to keep in touch with one another, we will be working on making some progress.

All of the challenges had ideas that were usable. I think the largest challenge we are faced with is making use of what we learned, and keeping in touch with our community. The value of community was obvious at the Unconference, and I think we all learned how effective it is to have the whole team working on solutions.

Personally #hcsmca has made a large difference to my life and seeing virtual community change to real life community in BC was a powerful experience.

Meanwhile I look forward to the next Road Trip!!

Andre Picard with delegates from #hcsmca

More ideas:
Proceed until apprehended. Pick a back-burner idea and go for it on Monday.
Involve patients.
Use technology to support patients.
Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.
How do we listen to and use stories and then turn the stories to action?

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Intimacy, Sexuality and Sjogren's Syndrome. Sjogren's National Conference 2015

In comments and feedback to the Sjogren's Society of Canada members have indicated a wish to hear more about a topic that is usually kept in the closet - intimacy. In 2015 we had a great speaker who gave us useful information about intimacy and sexuality.

Many of us have brought this issue up during doctor visits and have found that many health care providers seem to be uncomfortable with this topic and do not offer much advice. 

Since this is so crucial to maintaining our relationships, we were happy to hear Iris Zink, a Rheumatology Nurse Practitioner and President of the Rheumatology Nurses Society, speak on the topic of "Intimacy, Sexuality and Sjogren's Syndrome." Her advice sounded excellent for people with any chronic disease.

Normally she lectures to audiences of health care professionals across the United States. In her role at the Beals Institute she is known as "the sex lady" and I think we may have been her first audience of patients.

I elect Iris Zink as our most memorable and original speaker ever. 

When I first noticed her in the room on the morning of the Conference I wondered about her red and silver boots but I had no idea that underneath her ordinary white jacket she was wearing a Wonder Woman cape.

  Note the pointer in Iris's right hand

Her no-nonsense talk was straightforward and clear - we can't keep treating Intimacy and sexuality as the elephant in the room. Embarrassment on the part of the patient and healthcare provider results in no discussion.

Elephant in the room

It was too bad her audience wasn't bigger. She got her message across in a very compelling way - so much so that if Iris wrote a book I would give copies away as a public service. Her lecture was helpful for patient and provider communication, as well as for patients and their spouses.

She told us that 66% of patients with hip and back Osteoarthritis, 62% with Rheumatoid Arthritis and 71% with Fibromyalgia have difficulties with sexual problems. 

She stressed that we should accept what we've got, and told us the brain is 90% of sex, the skin only 10%. Her presentation went over well with the mixed audience. 

The main issue is how we start the conversation and how we communicate with each other. For instance: Complete this sentence - "I miss ............." when you and your partner discuss intimacy. Talk, touch and practice. She defined sex as the ultimate union of the body and the mind.

Don't forget your Kegel exercises, men too. She suggested doing Kegels 30 minutes before sex to increase the blood flow to that part of the body. 

Her talk was optimistic and empowering. Most of the people in the room were smiling at the uninhibited style and the anecdotes and cartoons that drew us in. 

We were even given homework to do with our partners:
1. Talk to one another
2. Spend 30 minutes touching each other without intercourse or orgasm
3. If you are interested in steamy sex talk you have to practice.
4. Know your body and what makes you aroused
5. Date!!! Make it a priority!

All who wanted came home with catalogs so that we could have a look at some of the possible intimacy enhancing products.


Iris Zink wrote an article called "A Rheumatologic Perspective on Intimacy and Chronic Illness" for The Rheumatologist - an official publication of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR).

A study by Bitzer and Platano that Iris referenced concluded that "sexual problems are frequent in many clinical conditions, but are not yet a routine part of diagnostic workup and therapeutic planning." She mentioned that 40% of ObGyns don't ask about sexual function.