Category: Doctor-Patient Communication

Electronic Health Record Coming to a Phone Near You

When I go for my yearly check-up, my doctor asks me things like “When was your last tetanus shot” and “What was your last Pap smear.” Since these services only happen every 3, 5, or 10 years, my answer is usually an “I don’t know.  I’d have to track down the records.”

Apple has realized that most of us have foggy memories when it comes to our healthcare.  In January, Apple announced that they are extending their AppleHealth app to interface with people’s electronic health records.  This means that instead of having to request records to be sent from office to office, you will be able to see your medical history on your phone.

This version of the app is currently still in beta-testing, and therefore is only available to patients of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, MD, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, CA, Penn Medicine I Philadelphia, PA, Geisinger Health System in Danville, PA, UC San Diego Health in San Diego, CA, UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, NC, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, Dignity Health in AZ, CA, and NV, Ochsner Health System in Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana, and MedStar Health in Washington D.C., MD, and VA, OhioHealth in Columbus, OH, and Cerner Health Clinic and Kansas City, MO.

Hopefully this will allow people to take more ownership of their healthcare in the future.

 

Reference:

Apple, Inc. (2018, January 24). Apple announces effortless solution bringing health records to iPhone. Retrieved from Apple.com: 2018

Just Trust Me: Part III

“You can’t health care-access your way out of this problem. There’s something inherently wrong with the system that’s not valuing the lives of black women equally to white women.” -Raegan McDonald-Mosley

Last week, my post scratched the surface of the history of oppression disguised as medical treatment. Today, I want to talk about how this mistreatment, and the historical trauma that ensues, exhibits itself in patient-practitioner relationships.

Many of us have experienced the helplessness of not knowing how much a medical procedure will cost until it’s over. It’s a terrible feeling: it feels like everyone is communicating without you; ‘above’ you. For many non-white and immigrant patients, this feeling lasts for the entire appointment: from scheduling to decision-making to discharge.

Traditionally, there are four types of patient-physician relationships, each with varying levels of patient power and involvement in decision-making. There is also a distinction between patients preferring an active or passive role in decision-making. Acknowledging the relationship between trust and decision-making preference, these researchers suggest that, for black patients, race may impact both: such that a patient who trusts her individual physician “may have residual mistrust of the health care system that limits [her] ability to relinquish decision-making control.” Cultural differences, as well as fear that the doctor does not have one’s best interests at heart, can influence the relationship between patients and their physicians in Hispanic populations as well.

Racial bias, conscious or otherwise, has been found to influence treatment decisions. Black patients are systematically under-treated for pain due to false beliefs of biological differences between blacks and whites: such as black people’s skin being thicker, or blood coagulating more quickly. This is exacerbated by existing power structures between whites and non-whites, as well as between doctors and patients. In over 200 personal stories from black women of their childbirth experiences, NPR found a constant theme of being devalued and dismissed by medical providers.

STOP Act: Implementation and Effects on the Opioid Epidemic in North Carolina

The rise of the opioid epidemic nationwide has led to an increase of attention from both media and policy makers. Here in North Carolina, a recently passed policy is the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention, or STOP Act, which aims to reduce the amount of Opioids prescribed a one approach to tackle the epidemic. The STOP Act was signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper on June 29, 2017, and since then its four stage implementation has been put into effect, which will continue until 2020.

The first step of implementation occurred almost immediately after the law’s passage, on July 1st 2017, requiring Physician Assistants (PAs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) to personally consult with a supervising physician. This applied to Pas and NPs at facilities that primarily engage in treating pain, and the prescription will, or is expected to, last longer than 30 days. Additionally, PAs and NPs have to consult with a supervising physician every 90 days for patients for are continuously prescribed opioids.  Providers are also required to provide information on the disposal of controlled substances, both written and orally, when a patient concludes a course of treatment. The second aspect, implemented on September 1st, 2017, requires that pharmacies report targeted prescriptions to the North Carolina Controlled Substance Reporting System within a day of the prescription is dispensed.

The most recent aspect of the STOP Act was implemented on January 1st, 2018, and limits the amount of opioids prescribed for acute pain. Practitioners are not able to prescribe more than five days’ worth of any Schedule II or III Opioid or Narcotic, with an exception to things like pain after surgery, where the prescription cannot for longer than seven days. The final part of the law will be implemented on January 1st, 2020, and will require practitioners to electronically prescribed targeted controlled substances, with a few exceptions.

While it is still unclear what impact the law will have on overdose deaths in the state, it appears that the State government is attempting to address this issue. While more resources could be devoted to mental health services, naloxone access and syringe exchanges, and more programs geared toward injecting drug users rather than only those who use prescription drugs, it’s commendable that a joint effort was reached to combat this ongoing epidemic.

 

Sources:

New! Summary of NC’s new opioids law, the STOP Act: North Carolina Medical Board – https://www.ncmedboard.org/resources-information/professional-resources/publications/forum-newsletter/notice/new-summary-of-ncs-new-opioids-law-the-stop-act

FAQs: The STOP Act of 2017: North Carolina Medical Board – https://www.ncmedboard.org/resources-information/professional-resources/publications/forum-newsletter/article/faqs-the-stop-act-of-2017

STOP Act Provision Takes Effect Jan. 1, Will Limit Opioid Prescriptions: NC Governor Roy Cooper – https://governor.nc.gov/news/stop-act-provision-takes-effect-jan-1-will-limit-opioid-prescriptions

STOP Act Bill Summary: North Carolina Medical Board – https://www.ncmedboard.org/images/uploads/article_images/The_STOP_Act_summary-OnLetterhead.pdf

 

Just Trust Me (Part II)

“Dr. X, or whoever she was, she must have been experimenting on me…she left a big scar on my neck … I don’t want that lady to ever touch me again. I don’t like her and I don’t trust her.

Last week, I introduced the issue of trust in the medical setting and how it may vary across scenarios and patient characteristics. But to truly understand why some patients don’t trust the healthcare system, we absolutely cannot ignore the history of their oppression by its hands.

The most well-known medical violation under the guise of research in the U.S. is the Tuskegee “study,” a 40-year-long theft of human rights that, brilliantly and viciously, utilized both government and community-level networks to recruit black men in Macon County, AL. Most had syphilis. The participants, many of whom had never seen a physician, were not made aware of the dangers, causes, and treatment options for their disease. They were not offered informed consent, nor the option to leave the study, and many died.

But Tuskegee is only the tip of the iceberg. Henrietta Lacks’ cells were cultured without her consent during her battle with cervical cancer in 1951 and are still widely used today. Gynecologist J. Marion Sims ran “practice runs” of his procedures on enslaved women. A common belief in the 20th century was that those who could not pay for medical care, many of them poor minorities and immigrants, “owed their bodies” to science. Harry Laughlin performed forced sterilizations on “socially inadequate” Puerto Rican women until the 1970s. The list could go on.

Today, this unfathomable history is manifested in mistrust in healthcare and scientific research. Evidence suggests that black patients are less likely to trust physicians, are more worried about medical privacy and experimentation than are white patients, and are less likely to participate in clinical trials. Some patients are not fully aware of the history to their mistrust – it is a cultural feeling that has been passed down through generations. This is called historical trauma. In addition, racism is still rampant in the healthcare system, both intentional and subconscious, which I will delve into in Part III. These features make this issue even more difficult to address.

Just Trust Me (Part I)

Well I’m not trained medically, so I’m taking a lot of what they say on faith.”

This was the response of a 47-year-old man, whose interview was part of a study on patients’ trust in hospitals.

There is no universal definition of trust that will apply to every scenario. Physician training, patient’s racial and cultural background, personalities, and expectations all come into play as their relationship evolves. One recurring theme in the study cited above was “sensing that you are in good hands.” Some mentioned that their trust developed from knowing the sheer amount of training required to be a medical provider. Other patients pointed out that being desperate, or having few other options, accelerates the formation of trust.

The Trust Project at Northwestern emphasizes the role that vulnerability plays in forming trust. Generally, once we come to trust someone, we open up to them; we expose vulnerability. In the healthcare system, it works backwards: being sick, worried, or simply confused by jargon (this is called information asymmetry), the patient often begins her relationship with her provider in a state of vulnerability.

Trust can also vary in different facets of the healthcare system. When we say that a patient has mistrust in the healthcare system, are we referring to his relationship with his provider, institutions like his hospital and insurance company, or the notion of Western medicine to begin with? One study suggests that repeated interactions are a key to building trust, and that patients do not see their providers as interchangeable. These findings suggest that we should enhance continuity, not just access.

Patients with low health literacy may reveal trust in a number of ways. One extreme is blind faith in the expertise of the provider, and another is mistrust and suspicion. One study found that blind trust in physicians was stronger in patients who were older, perceived their prognosis to be uncertain, or sometimes of low SES. Trust in the healthcare system tends to be lower among racial minorities, due to a history of unethical treatment. Could race moderate the relationship between SES and trust? Can these two extremes be reconciled, or even coexist in a single patient?

Interactions

Could a lack of communication between older Americans and their healthcare providers increase the likelihood of a bad interaction? And by “bad interaction,” I don’t just mean interpersonally. The University of Michigan conducted a national poll of 1,690 Americans ages 50 to 80 and found that only 35% of those taking multiple medications had discussed possible drug interactions with a health professional in the past two years.

This lack of open-dialogue may be due to the transient nature of where we get our medication. Of the sample, 20% had used more than one pharmacy in the past two years. And even so, only 36% reported that their pharmacist definitely knew of all the medications they were taking. Alcohol, supplements, and certain foods can affect how the body responds to medication as can other medications.

Older adults especially may also be under the care of many different doctors and specialists, with 60% seeing more than one doctor. Addressing medication interactions can be challenging even when all the information is presented but when doctors don’t have the whole picture of which medications are at play, they very well could miss something. Electronic records and medical computer systems may be of assistance in flagging potential interactions, but a complete list of a patient’s medications is still necessary.

Patient-provider communication in recent years has been supplemented with patient portals and electronic paper trails, and I wonder if this older age group is slipping through the gap between interpersonal and electronic communication.

 

Research Spotlight: Dr. Noel Brewer

Last week, Upstream Writers were joined by Noel Brewer, PhD, professor of Health Behavior in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and affiliated scholar with UNC’s Interdisciplinary Health Communication program. Dr. Brewer gave an interesting and informative talk about his recent tobacco research involving the effect of cigarette pack messages. His findings showed that pictorial cigarette pack warnings increased smoking quit attempts and 7-day quitting. Additionally, the pictorial warnings were found to work better than text warnings, as they led to more attention, negative affect, social interactions and thinking about the warnings. Finally, because the study’s findings did not fit existing models of health behavior, Dr. Brewer developed the new Tobacco Warnings Model.

Dr. Brewer received his PhD in psychology from Rutgers University and joined the faculty in the Department of Health Behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004. He studies how people make risky health decisions, and he currently directs the UNC Health Cognition & Behavior Lab where he conducts his research. Furthermore, in addition to Dr. Brewer’s tobacco research involving smoking risk communication, his work also focuses on HPV vaccine communication and increasing HPV vaccine uptake, and he currently serves as Chair of the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable. More information about his research can be found here.

In the spirit of Public Health Thank You Day, thank you, Dr. Brewer, for the work that you do to promote and protect public health! 

Electronic Health Records and the Expert Patient

Electronic Health Records (EHR) are becoming more and more common as means for patient engagement. Medical practice has moved from a paternalistic mode of engagement to a mode of engagement that makes the patient active and directly involved. However, this process also demands more of the patients, both in terms of educating themselves and collecting and inputting data into an EHR.

While the goal of the EHR is better patient outcomes, we should think about accessibility. For patients who might not have access to a computer, the internet, or any means of collecting their own health data, it might be impossible to access an EHR or other patient portal. Additionally, patients with low health literacy or health information literacy might struggle to understand the information being provided to or asked of them.

Aside from difficulties directly using the EHR, patients are pushed into an expert patient role through the same attempt at creating active patients. While this might help with patient engagement, the need to gather information about one’s own health, illness(es), and medication(s) increases the burden on the patient. Being an active participant in one’s own medical care, requires labor on the part of the patient.

While this may improve patient outcomes, it might be impossible for many patients to gather additional health information either because they don’t know where to look or don’t have the time to search. The active patient model and the electronic health record are both features of a modern medical practice that require additional labor from patients and focus on an patient with certain means and abilities. Surprisingly, it may well be increasing the health disparities divide.

These are all considerations that practitioners should keep in mind with regard to electronic health records and the demands placed on their patients.

Do you have an Advance Directive?

Everyone deserves the right to make their own decisions about their health. But sometimes we may found ourselves in certain circumstances in which we are unable to do so, such as during a coma, terminal illness, or serious injury. An important way that we can communicate our decisions during these times, however, is by having an “advance directive” in place.

Advance directives are written, legal documents that outline your decisions regarding medical care when you are unable to make them. They assist doctors and caregivers in making medical decisions on your behalf, and they can be written at any age.

There are several types of advance directives:

Health care power of attorney (also called “durable power of attorney for health care” or “health care proxy”). This is a type of advance directive in which you appoint a person you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so. This may be a family member, partner, or friend.

Living will. This is a written, legal document that outlines your wishes for certain medical or end-of-life care treatments. These may range from mechanical ventilation to tube feeding, to even organ and tissue donations.

Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders (DNR). This order informs health care providers not to perform CPR if your breathing or heart were to stop.

While advance directives are not required, it may be a good idea to have one in place so that you can have peace of mind knowing that you’re in control of your health care in the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

It should be noted that state requirements regarding advance directives, such as living wills, may vary, so be sure to check your local state laws if you decide to create one for yourself. Also, be sure to keep a copy of your living will for yourself, as well as provide copies to family members, health care providers, and your health care power of attorney. Advance directives can be changed at any time, but just be sure to redistribute copies as necessary.

For more information about advance directives, check out the following resource links:

Advance Care Planning | UNC Health Care: UNC Medical Center

Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney | North Carolina Bar Association

Living Wills and Advance Directives for Medical Decisions | Mayo Clinic

References:

Advance care directives. (2017, September 5). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000472.htm

Advance directives. (2017, July 24). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/advancedirectives.html#summary

Creating advance directives. (2014, November 11). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/living-wills/art-20046303?pg=2

Living wills and advance directives for medical decisions. (2014, November 11). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/living-wills/art-20046303

 

Patient-Centered Research: The New Direction in Clinical Research?

What first comes to mind when you think of clinical research? My mind directly goes to thoughts of doctors with white lab coats, experimental treatments, expensive drugs and infamous cancer trials. One thing that doesn’t seem to come to mind is patient-centeredness and stakeholder engagement. This is something that one research institute is attempting to change and shatter the current norms of the clinical trial world.

Patient-Centered Research Outcomes Institute (PCORI) is literally one of a kind (the only 501(c) in the country) non-profit organization whose main mission is to change the conduct of clinical research by engaging patients and other stakeholders in the research process. This could include patients’ involvement in the design of research topics, desired outcomes, patient recruitment and even data analysis and dissemination. The thought is that stakeholder involvement will make research more efficient, results will be disseminated more quickly and the quality of clinical research will be improved.

PCORI was mandated under the Affordable Care Act by Congress in 2010 and today has funded over 500 research studies ranging from exploring alternative pain treatment options to using community health workers in the delivery of health care interventions.

This organization is one to keep in eye out for especially since they are up for reauthorization by Congress in 2019.