Friday, 20 July 2018

Being a Patient Advisor: One of the Drawbacks

It has been an illuminating time recently on social media, hearing patients and caregivers express feelings of frustration, and of being used and vulnerable.

It's likely they too have been described as "Expert Patients" or "Professional Patients" to their faces, and in referring to people like them. I find the implications of both expressions offensive in their suggestion that I am taking a space where an 'unheard voice' should be sitting.

Just this week in a tweet chat a participant said a _ xy _ _ initiative will have failed if we simply give greater voice to those who already have loud voices, and I doubt he was referring to researchers, professionals, or funders

I did not choose to become a patient; none of us do. I developed a chronic disease 30 years ago that continues to this day and has seriously damaged my bones and joints. I get involved with issues and causes and try to contribute positively to finding solutions or answers that will effect change because I know many system weaknesses and pressure points first hand.

Now that I have developed more knowledge about the health care system I can deal with it better on my own behalf and can also be involved in efforts to improve the situation for other patients and caregivers.

But as Dawn Richards said in her BMJ patient blog this year, the patient is also a person.

In my deepest self I am not a patient, but in any interaction with the health system, that's my assigned persona. Being the 'Expert Patient' that I am considered to be does not mean that I have stopped having my own inconvenient personal encounters with health care.

a) Being knowledgeable does not mean I don't need medical help.
b) Expending my energy as a volunteer does not mean I am healthy.
c) Spending hours every week reading and learning enough to be able to follow and contribute to high-level conversations about system issues should not be something used against me.
d) It is not the job of patient volunteers to make the volunteer pool diverse and inclusive.
e) Not everyone who would like to volunteer is able to. 

It's ironic that those who are least able are often the only volunteers around the table, giving their own time to benefit others.

Another issue is patient engagement as highlighted recently by Isabel Jordan @seastarbattitta. Her story of being profoundly disregarded after working on a project as a team member, and then being ignored can be taken as a lesson in how NOT TO engage patients.

When I began to be involved as a patient partner, or as a conference invitee I was excited and happy just to be there. After years of experience my sense of tokenistic involvement is a lot sharper. One of my older posts is about the Authentic Patient Voice and how much I wonder what the main agenda items at meetings would be if patients choose them without being 'guided' by well-meaning professionals.

It is disturbing to see patients characterized as being responsible for overcrowded emergency departments, as seekers of pain treatment, as pushing doctors into prescribing unneeded antibiotics and tests, and as non-compliant with medications. It only makes sense to involve all members of the team in creating solutions for health system problems, and that team includes patients, who are actually paying for the whole health edifice as taxpayers and as users of non-covered services.

When volunteering as a patient advisor I don't like being called an 'expert patient' or 'professional patient'. Gaining experience with the health care system was never my goal. The work involved in being a patient is a real burden.

If #patientengagement specialists look at me and wish I were an unheard voice, rather than an older white woman who is retired, why don't they work harder at inclusion? They could reach out to communities that include the people they would like to see, and invite them to participate, or at least ask them about methods of participation that would make them comfortable with the process.

If researchers or organizations feel their initiatives will have failed if they simply give greater voice to those who already have loud voices, what are they going to do about it? 

Blaming the people who are helping you now will not attract people with different viewpoints or backgrounds. As a person who spent 20 years recruiting I know it takes time, energy, and innovative strategies to include people you seldom see represented around the table.

Twitter persons who informed this blog post included: @to_dpr @solidfooting, @PFEAMorin, @amaybee, @couragesings, @seastarbattita. I am @anetto

Monday, 16 July 2018

Getting Involved as a Patient Advisor: The Hackathon Files

In the middle of October I was a judge and patient advisor at a Hackathon put on by the Arthritis Society at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. #ArthritisHack

I had never been to a hackathon before, and to be a judge on my first experience was worrying, but one thing I know a lot about is living with arthritis, apps for chronic illness, and patient engagement. That helped me to take the step into the unknown.

You might wonder what actually happens at a hackathon and how a patient or caregiver can get involved. I found out it's all about design, like a race to produce a great solution for a problem in the space of a weekend or less. Those involved in doing this include software developers, graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, and in this case rheumatologists and patients who have arthritis as experts on the subject of arthritis.  

A Hackathon incorporates a user-centered-design process, so the creators start by talking to the intended users of the applications they plan to build.
Hackathon themes

The first night got off to a great start with introductory speeches from the sponsors and #HackingHealthTO. Patient group leader Dawn Richards was there from CAPA (Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance) and spoke about arthritis and the issues involved to put the disease into perspective for the teams and sponsors.

CAPA VP Dawn Richards inspiring the teams

Some of those attending as mentors were good friends who I have met through other engagement activities.

Karen and me above; Lene Andersen of The Seated View blog in lower picture

There were 11 teams there using their skills and creativity to produce the next amazing app. Both patients and doctors gave advice about what was practical, desirable, useful - what would make the app something that could help people.

Mike Stone of Lilly Canada and Dr Rachel Shupak

Dr Philip Baer with Isabel Vezina of Hacking Health and Michelle Mika 

The Arthritis Society held this event with sponsors Eli Lilly Canada  and Cossette. The Lilly team produced the food and display below to illustrate some of the problems involved with rheumatoid arthritis. The prizes for winners of the competition include coaching and marketing help to the winning solutions into shape to compete for people's attention.

Opening jars and lifting cups are other issues with joint damage from RA

It was great to see so many people pitching in to help people living with arthritis. 

Here's everyone involved in the Hackathon - the big team

And here's a picture of the winning team- Team Kizuna

The winner was an app that is all about community. You'll have to wait for the future to see it in action. Keep watching The Arthritis Society website.

Janet Yale of The Arthritis Society

And Janet Yale, the CEO of The Arthritis Society, gave us a final goodbye with thanks for all of the great ideas and great results.

This post also appeared in the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance Newsletter December, 2017