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Since my TEDMED talk on the importance of transparency in medicine was featured on TED.com last month, I have had an overwhelming number of responses. The majority were very positive. Hundreds of people encouraged us to keep going, and a lot wanted to know how they could participate: as transparent doctors and as patients. 

Many asked about how they could find a transparent doctor in their area. Our website is not robust enough for a geographical search function, and it contains a small fraction of the doctors who have signed the Total Transparency Manifesto. We are open to working with nonprofits and developers on improving Who’s My Doctor to make it more user-friendly.

In the meantime, Who’s My Doctor is fortunate to have captured the attention of someone who I’ve secretly admired for a long time: NPR radio host Guy Raz. You may have heard of Guy’s work as host of All Things Considered. Since March 2014, he has been the host of NPR’s TED Radio Hour. As a TED nerd and NPR faithful, I download these excellent podcasts every week. Some of my recent favorites have been the Source of Creativity featuring (among others) Sting and Overcoming.

I had the privilege of meeting Guy at TEDMED; he is as energetic and charismatic in person as he is on air. I was flattered when he invited me to be interviewed on TED Radio hour—but quite astounded and not a little bit embarrassed when he revealed that the topic of this session was “courage”. The other people interviewed in this episode are war journalist Janine Di Giovanni, human rights litigator Kimberley Motley, former CEO Margaret Heffernan.

TED Radio Hour: Courage
What we’ve done in Who’s My Doctor is important, but hardly courageous! Having been a patient and caregiver, I know how frightening it is to be in the position of extreme vulnerable, when you or a loved one are ill. Dealing with these stressful situations is what takes real courage; Who’s My Doctor is our attempt to level the playing field.

Whatever your thoughts are on transparency in medicine, I hope you will listen to Guy’s masterful interview, where he created a narrative out of my story and the stories of Janine, Kimberley, and Margaret. I look forward to your comments.
I wrote a piece for NPR about the patients we see in an urban ER, and how every day is a reminder that health doesn't exist in a vacuum.
Even in the time-limited setting of the ER, it's important for providers to understand where our patients live, work and play. It's these conversations that allow us to diagnose and treat the real causes of our patients' ills.
Thanks to everyone for reading, and in particular to the many people who pointed out the critical necessity of teamwork--with nurses, physician assistants, technicians, nurse practictioners, case managers, students, social workers, and many more. 
Indeed, it takes an entire team to provide true care. As people have commented on NPR's Facebook site, we in the ER rely on social workers--many of whom are overworked yet try so hard to help our patients. Whenever we as docs and nurses refer patients to social workers, they are always fantastic about helping us. It's critical for us frontline providers who see patients first to ask the tough questions and look beyond the "chief complaint" in order to know to involve the other members of our team.
I have been fortunate over the course of my training and career to learn from and work with many incredibly caring, highly compassionate, and superbly competent providers. It's also the community leaders and neighborhood organizations who provide care outside the walls of our institution, who are critical to the health of people. 
On this Thanksgiving weekend, I give them, and all of you, my unending gratitude and deep respect. Thank you.

I am thrilled that TED has picked up on Who’s My Doctor and our efforts to improve transparency in medicine. 

Click here for link to TED talk 

TED prohibits “selling from the stage” and apparently my call to action at the end was too much of a “sell”. Here is the intended conclusion of my original TEDMED talk.

"Radical transparency won’t be easy. There will be many critics, some who have ulterior motives and have something to hide, and others who are just scared of changing the status quo. But if it’s anywhere we can unlock our imaginations, any place where we dare to speak up, with anyone who can make the impossible a reality, it’s here at TEDMED, with all of you.

I call upon everyone here—anyone who will ever be a patient or family member of a patient—to sign the total transparency manifesto. I call upon doctors, nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists, and all healthcare providers to take off our white coats and show our patients who we are. 

I’m taking the leap. This, today, is my pledge. Will you join me?"

The talk is here. I'd love to hear what you think.

In last month’s Health Affairs, I wrote a personal perspective about unequal treatment for patients with disabilities. Nearly 20% of the population in the U.S. have a disability; yet, teaching about care for people with disabilities is not a mandated part of the medical curriculum.

This is a deeply personal issue to me. As someone who grew up with a speech impediment, I am acutely aware of the prejudices and disparities that result from lack of knowledge.

I’m grateful to Health Affairs for publishing this article and producing the associated podcast. This has been nearly10 years in the making—thanks to my mentors and colleagues Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan and Dr. Audrey Young, among others, for encouraging me to write about my experiences. 

And I will be forever indebted to Professor Vivian Sisskin: a friend, mentor, supporter, cheerleader, and best speech therapist ever. This essay is dedicated to all those who are fighting to ensure equitable and accessible healthcare.


My blog entries have been light over the last month in large part because of significant travel. In between clinical shifts in the ED and co-leading a fantastic cohort of GWU’s Residency Fellowship in Health Policy, I was fortunate to be invited to speak at several conferences in October. Here are some highlights:

In early October, I was honored to keynote the Centra Health Foundation annual gala in Lynchburg, VA to celebrate the work of several hundred volunteers, all of whom were either breast cancer survivors or family members of survivors. The event was moving and powerful; I thought of how proud my mother would be to hear me share her story with so many courageous and inspiring women.

Next was the 12th Annual UC Davis Pre-Health Professions Conference in Davis, CA. Ten years ago, when I was the national president of the American Medical Student Association, I was approached by a student from a community college named Joubin Afshar who told me that he had started a conference for community college students who wanted information about the health professions. I attended the conference then, and was blown away by the drive and passion of these students. Nearly all were first generation college students, and for many, this was their first and only exposure to medical professionals.

Having been such a student myself, I vowed to return whenever possible. Last year and this year, I gave a keynote and led four workshops on leadership in medicine. Nearly 8,000 students attended the conference—many took overnight buses across California and even from the East Coast. It’s remarkable to see the work done by a small group of committed students. I wonder how many health professionals are where they are now because of the work of Joubin and his colleagues. (I also had the opportunity to see a friend and colleague, Dr. Davis Liu: an exceptional leader, thinker, and physician.)

My former Rhodes colleague who is now Chief Resident at Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia, Dr. Gary Huang, invited me to give Grand Rounds to the Departments of Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine (pictured here with fellow Chief Resident and very kind physician Dr. Carlos Davila). I received many questions on what physician trainees can do to avoid burnout and deliver true patient-centered care. 

No answer I gave could have been as telling as the actions of Dr. Huang. As we were coming down the elevator, a woman in her fifties stopped us to ask directions to a particular surgeon’s office. I watched as Gary helped her figure out the name of the surgeon, led her to identify his location, then navigate her there. So many other people would have simply said, “I don’t know” and implied that it’s not their job to know, but not Gary. He took the time to help this woman in need, going far out of his way to do so. He didn’t do it to impress her or me (and I suspect he and his equally humble and caring wife Sherry would both be embarrassed by this blog post), but because it was the right thing to do. This action speaks volumes about the type of doctor he is, and answers the question that the residents asked: there may be many factors that make us disconnected from our patients, but it is within our abilities to treat patients as people, to value each person’s humanity, and to exemplify basic dignity and respect.

At the Urgent Matters Conference during the American College of Emergency Physicians meeting in Chicago, Dr. Jesse Pines expanded upon these themes. The other presenters (including my former attending at Brigham and now MGH Vice Chair, Dr. Ali Raja) and I spoke about how patient-centeredness and better communication can reduce overtreatment, improve patient safety, and transform care. The response was much better than expected, in no little part due to the amazing tweeting capabilities of one Dr. Seth Trueger (aka @MDAware).

Then it was on to Nijmegen, the Netherlands, where Corine Jansen (pictured), Jennie Grau, and their team organized the first-ever listening conference in healthcare. Initially, when my husband heard that I was speaking at listening conference, he laughed—isn’t it an oxymoron? And I have to say that I didn’t initially understand what a listening conference was really about (though the International Listening Association has a long history of hosting these conferences, and cosponsored this one).

The moment I showed up, though, I got it. Patients, family members, doctors, nurses—they shared their stories. They were powerful and unforgettable; indeed, as one participant commented, “the shortest distance between people is a story.” I heard a doctor speak about how he and his fellow neurologists assumed that their patients with Parkinson’s disease cared most about memory and managing their tremors. But when they listened—really listened—to their patients, they heard that what mattered most to them was sleep and sex. So they changed the entire medical encounter so that it wasn’t just about medication management, but also hired a sex and sleep therapist. Corine, Jennie, your team at REShape (where I took the photo with the best message ever): hats off to you for a fantastic conference and to the tremendous individuals I had the pleasure of meeting there.

This week, it is off to Grantmakers in Health Conference in DC then American Cancer Society in San Jose, CA. I hope to contribute more substantive blog posts soon; please write if there are particular topics you would like to see.

Recently, I wrote on NPR’s Shots Blog about the movement towards open medical records and the pioneering work of OpenNotes by Dr. Tom Delbanco and Jan Walker. Here’s an excellent RWJF podcast about why they decided getting health care providers to share their notes with patients, and where their work is headed next. 

Here’s a hint: what if the 3 million patients who now have access to their clinician’s notes could co-write notes with their providers?

I'll add another thought: what if we go beyond written medical records, and patients wish to have audio- or video-tapes of their doctors' visits?

Patient advocates have responded very positively to the OpenNotes concept. I was curious about what doctors think of it and other movements to transparency. Emily Peters from Doximity was kind enough to help me with an informal poll of Doximity users (doctors who register to be on their site). We asked 3 questions and asked doctors to use a 1-5 scale, 1 being not at all likely to 5 being very likely. We received 113 responses:

(Please note that I have no financial with Doximity, and this poll is not meant to be a scientific study.)

I’d love to know what you think about this. Do the data surprise you? What do you think about open medical records, and patient-initiated requests to audiotape/videotape their medical encounters?

My last blog was on how today’s medical system fails by not addressing the real needs of our patients and their communities. Here, I highlight three projects that take such an “upstream” approach to healthcare:

Doctors can give prescriptions for medications, but why not a prescription for healthy foods and safer housing? Health Leads employs young people (usually college graduates interested in careers in health) to be advocates who assist doctors in clinics and ERs in connecting patients with community resources. They help with everything from food assistance to job training to legal counseling. They help to “fill” the other prescriptions that people need to achieve better health.

Recognizing that black males have significant health disparities and that outreach and education must start in the community, Project Brotherhood was conceived from a simple idea: give patients free haircuts, and use barber shops as a place to screen and counsel on illnesses such as high blood pressure and STI prevention. Its model of multidisciplinary, culturally competent care incorporates other aspects of social support, including on fatherhood and job support.

 The New York Times just published a story about an “EMS Corps” in East Oakland that specifically recruits at-risk youth and train them to be emergency medical technicians. They provide mentorship for young men who come from backgrounds of poverty and violence, and train them to become professionals who will serve their communities. As the story cites, these men are taught that they aren’t the problem—they are the solution.

These are only some of the some of the many innovations occurring around the country. We need far more interventions that go beyond “band aid” care. In the words of public health doctor Rishi Manchanda (whose recent TED talk I highly recommend), we must change our entire approach to healthcare, away from simply treating the effects of illnesses to targeting interventions to where people live, work, and play—where health really begins.