Saturday, February 2, 2013

Do What You can, With What You have, Where you are

This quote from Theodore Roosevelt sums up the four part series on Creating Positive Outcomes for Patients, which I started on January 5. My desire to write this series came about because I was fed up from watching another week of screwy situations where patients didn’t get the care they needed.

When I asked colleagues and friends alike about what they would recommend to improve patient outcomes, some had excellent suggestions. However, most just identified more issues with our health care system and pretty much said it was just “too big,” or “that’s the way its always been.”

However, everyone can do something to improve patient outcomes, regardless of income level, or whether you are a medical provider, friend, patient or community. As I wrote on Jan. 5, My goal is to identify straight forward approaches that have minimal or no costs associated with them, are effective based on research and/or from those with extensive experience working in the field, and can be easily implemented in a variety of settings. For the most part, the recommendations in this four part series do not require that much money relatively speaking.

Note that at the end of this post are the links to the four part series Creating Positive Outcomes for Patients. Each part identifies Five Things a piece that Community, Patients, Family/friends and Hospitals can do. Please go to these posts for detailed information.

As I wrote these posts, there were certain suggestions that were relevant for all four groups, with the leading one being advocacy. Whether it’s self -advocacy, being “a friend with a pen,” or helping to organize volunteer advocates for those most in need, some type of advocacy was recommended across the board.

Due to our mobile, as well as aging society, an increasing number of people are finding themselves in positions were they don’t have a family/friend that can speak for them in the event of an emergency, and/or are not close by to help them if the need arises for hospitalization, recovery or end of life care. Consequently, regardless of the position we are in today, we continually need to assess our situations, be clear about what we want and form agreements to help one another.

“Responding” was recommended across the board. Family, friends and community members want to be helpful when someone is sick or injured, but they aren’t always sure how to go about it. The clearer patients can be about what they need the better the response. Hospitals and community groups can make a big difference by training and using volunteers to provide an array of programs that meet patient need. 

Organizing was another element for all groups. It could be organizing support, such as creating a Lotsa Helping Hands for a patient or community group, organizing information so patients know what resources exist in their community and have a good understanding of their medical situation, or the patient organizes their thoughts about what they want for care.

Information gathering, distribution and presentation-be it community resources, condition specific materials or who offers what at the hospital-are very important. All groups need to be aware of the following:
• The internet is the way many people get their information. Act accordingly by providing information that is on-line and includes local resource information and links to appropriate condition specific sites, e.g. the American Heart Association. Keep the site current, updating on a monthly basis. While hospitals by and large have done this, many community groups have not. Considering that 99% of the time a person with a chronic condition is in community and not in a health setting, community groups without a website or social networking (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs) need to reconsider how they are reaching people. Further, many hospital sites are written well above the literacy level of patients so they aren’t being used the way they should be. Finally, the social networking aspects of the web are rapidly becoming the ways many communicate. For many, a picture, or cartoon, along with a line or two is all they are looking for. Think about this when you do your outreach.

• Fraud and scams abound on the internet. Simply put, if it sounds to good to be true it probably is.

• Whenever possible offer several types of information in print format. Keep in mind literacy level. While the general rule is the simpler the better, there are those that do not care for the “dummied down” version. Also offer materials in different languages.

We all do best if we take care of selves. This can be: appropriate staffing levels at hospitals; family and friends participating in care giver support programs; and patients taking the responsibility seriously of managing their health and well being. The more mindful we are, the better we will be in caring for others and ourselves.

The recommendations I’ve made are not earth shattering. You’ll find no overhauling of patient records, implementing new billing systems, adding new equipment or sweeping reforms. Instead these are fairly straightforward ideas to try within our existing communities.   If this sounds too simplistic, think of the “The Butterfly Effect” in Chaos Theory-something that seems very small can make a substantial change to a large complex system. 

We have to start somewhere, so the change begins with you and me.

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