Calling for Responsible Healthcare Journalism

IMG_20140729_162034As the Ebola virus lands closer to home, it has been disappointing to watch the hype, inaccuracies and blame circulating in various media on what continues as a yet-to-be controlled humanitarian and health crisis in West Africa. Those who have been aware of this evolving issue, such as many well-trained, conscientious infection prevention professionals around the country, know this disease has been threatening the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea with increasing magnitude since March of this year, taking the lives of far too many West Africans over the last 7+ months. As a result, Ebola abroad, and now for the first time in the US, is also a very dynamic situation, like much in healthcare. As such, responsible healthcare journalists, weekend warrior bloggers or persons with a Twitter account might want to take into account that as more is learned, protocols and best practices will, as expected, evolve.

An excellent Infectious Disease (ID) blog sharing good information about Ebola is Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention, hosted by three ID physicians from the University of Iowa: Mike Edmond MD,  MPH, MPA, Chief Quality Officer, Eli Perencevich MD, and Dan Diekema MD, Director, Infectious Disease. In July, Edmond (@Mike_Edmond) posted, Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever: A Primer, which contains foundational information about the virus, much of which is based on CDC Ebola interim guidances, that are also evolving. And to put Ebola in a more realistic perspective and take away some of its horror film power, it is a very slow-moving infectious disease per Eli Perencevich MD (@eliowa), who writes in an October 9th post, Traveling with Ebola is not traveling with influenza:

The…most important difference between the current Ebola outbreak and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic is that Ebola is very slow-moving….the first case of Ebola is thought to have occurred 307 days ago on December 6th in a two-year old boy. Since that time there have been an estimated 8,032 cases …If you compare a similar 307-day period for 2009 H1N1, April 12, 2009 to February 12, 2010 CDC estimated between 42 million and 86 million cases occurred in the US with a mid-level estimate of 59 million people infected…7300 times more cases of H1N1 using the mid-level estimate

Fast Company staff writer, Rebecca Greenfield (@rzgreenfield), in Ebola Deeply is the Only Place You Should Be Getting Ebola News, directs those in search of Ebola related content without the hype, turn to the single source news website, Ebola Deeply, started by Lara Setrakian (@Lara) a former ABC News and Bloomberg reporter. After clicking onto the site, readers are immediately drawn to the NYTimes video story by video journalist, Ben C Solomon, also embedded below. The story shows what life is like on the streets of Monrovia for Gordon, a Liberian Ebola ambulance driver, separated from his family as a safety precaution for over five months. What he describes sounds like going to war against an invisible opponent, with limited armor and safe harbors. Certainly in a resource rich country like ours, we should be able to handle what courageous true front line Ebola warriors are fighting with much less.

While healthy critique of those charged to create solutions in the US provides a good check and balance, it’s disappointing to watch the finger pointing that rears up in such a well-resourced, educated country, especially as those in West Africa have far less time to discuss and instead are using that energy to improvise and stay alive while caring for their thousands of ill patients vs our limited number of cases to date. In fact, more people died in the last week due to all medical harm in the US than to an outlier of an infectious disease like Ebola. To add even greater perspective, a recent New York Times article by Elisabeth Rosenthal MD, For Ebola Health Workers Risks and Duty Collide, closes with the following:

…Meanwhile, Dr. Cooke said she has tremendous admiration for the doctors in West Africa: “It’s been inspiring to hear African health care workers saying ‘I’m a doctor, these are my people. There’s no choice.’ It’s a fundamental reminder of what it means to be an M.D.”

And with the arrival and death of an infected patient to a Dallas hospital, and the subsequent infection of two nurses who treated him, many of the existing cracks in our healthcare system are being exposed by the media on the larger stage that is now practicing medicine. In an interview on the Today Show last Thursday, a nurse working at the hospital spoke with Matt Lauer, sharing the need to come forward knowing full well she might lose her job. Not knowing the full story, the fact that this could happen comes as no surprise to those working in healthcare. However, it is important to note we still have one of, if not the, very best systems in the world–cracks and all. A safe healthcare system has a just culture, and when a nurse “voices concern” about his/her own safety, as well as that of patients and colleagues, he/she is heard, even thanked, by those who can fix and address those concerns. Many healthcare organizations across the US are creating environments that welcome this voice, yet others are still far from adopting this culture. While not at all familiar with the culture at this particular hospital, nor the institution’s side of the story, it appears from the Today Show interview this nurse voiced concerns that initially went unaddressed. To this end, we see how failure to embrace elements of a just culture could affect patient and provider safety in real-time. This could be an unfortunate example of a long existing need for greater urgency around culture change in healthcare.

And despite the “he said, she said” or “they should of…” thinking, there are many looking for solutions to stop the outbreak in Africa. In a recent @FastCoExist article, Can Better Design Stop Ebola? How Creative Minds Can Help, Jessica Leber writes:

…On just one day’s notice, almost 200 people crowded an auditorium at Columbia University’s engineering school on a Thursday evening in early October. Engineers, designers, and public health researchers were there to learn and brainstorm, and do so quickly…Columbia isn’t the only institution interested in applying design thinking to the health and humanitarian disaster. On October 9, USAID, partnered with the innovation platform OpenIDEO, the CDC, the Department of Defense and the White House, announced its sixth in a series of “grand challenges for development” focused on crowdsourcing ideas for better tools to fight the virus. Anyone can contribute to the brainstorm, and the government hopes to begin funding the strongest ideas in a more formal challenge competition “in a matter of weeks.”…

Getting to the other side of this real-time test of our infection prevention and containment abilities at home, the hope is that we will rise to the challenge and become that much stronger as a national healthcare system for having gone through the experience. As Edmond writes in a Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention post on October 14th, Ebola: The Questions Keep Coming:

…the Ebola crisis is challenging us in many ways and will likely continue to do so for quite some time. But perhaps we’ll emerge from this with a more thoughtful approach to patient care that improves safety without sacrificing quality.

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Medical Student Speaks Up Under Influence of Telluride Mentors

Over the course of history, many young entrepreneurs have changed the world. Be it in the technology arena like Bill Gates, the social media world like Mark Zuckerberg or the newest Nobel Peace Prize co-winner, Malala Yousafzai–real change has been created by young leaders who envisioned a better way. These creative thinking young entrepreneurs are also leading change in healthcare. While their vision and action as patient safety advocates and role models may not send financial ripples across Wall Street, or redefine how we communicate with one another just yet, their efforts will save patient lives.

Over the last two years, ETY followers have read many stories about quality and safety projects being led by resident physician and health science student entrepreneurs, many Telluride Patient Safety Scholars and alumni. The attached video highlights another example of these young leaders in action, role-modeling the use of resilience tools that will make care safer for our patients. Daliha Aqbal, Telluride alumna and a medical student at the Georgetown School of Medicine, role models two resilience tools to over 300 faculty caregivers–the use of Safety Moments, and an example of “Stopping the Line” to validate and verify information when something doesn’t feel right. While many of these young leaders may not win a Nobel Peace Prize, they are truly helping change our safety culture as they lead by example.


A Safety Moment from Budweiser

No introduction necessary, though I did have to watch it twice to get the entire message because I was too taken in by the sad yellow lab.


A More Realistic Perspective on a Career in Medicine

Artesa_View_NapaDanielle Ofri, MD, physician, writer and editor, often turns her pen along with her focus to the emotional complexities that accompany a career in medicine. Her book, What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine, is an honest sharing of what many healthcare professionals are often processing behind a mask of false bravado and confidence. The book, a must read for every medical education program in the country, can prepare and provide a realistic perspective of the road medical students can travel, to know they are not alone when doubt or disillusionment creeps in. It also can serve as an instruction manual of sorts for patients to better understand the person who provides the care. In just the Introduction, she writes:

There has been a steady stream of research into how doctors think…In…How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman explored various styles and strategies that doctors use to guide diagnosis and treatment, pointing out the flaws and strengths along the way. He studied cognitive processes that doctors use and observed that emotions can strongly influence these thought patterns, sometimes in ways that gravely damage our patients. “Most [medical] errors are mistakes in thinking,” Groopman writes. “And part of what causes these cognitive errors is our inner feelings, feelings we do not readily admit to and often don’t even recognize…

…The emotional layers in medicine…are far more nuanced and pervasive than we may like to believe…they can often be the dominant players in medical decision-making, handily overshadowing evidenced-based medicine, clinical algorithms, quality-control measures, even medical experience. And this can occur without anyone’s conscious awareness…

…This book is intended to shed light on the vast emotional vocabulary of medicine…how it affects the practice of medicine at all levels.

It was the recent reporting of two young physicians taking their own lives at a time they should be celebrating academic and professional milestones that prompted this post. While we are not privy to what contributed to these terrible losses, the frequency with which similar lives are lost among the healthcare ranks speaks to what can often be a Grand Canyon-sized gap in the expectations and the reality of a career in medicine–as well as what is often left untreated or acknowledged within the profession: mental health and wellness of the healthcare professional. As Ofri writes in a recent article for Slate Magazine, The Tyranny of Perfection:

…it is clear that a career in medicine also brings on tidal waves of pain, confusion, stress, self-doubt, and fear. The eddies nip at our ankles from our first step into anatomy lab, gathering in force and ferocity over the years of training and practice. During medical school, at least half of students experience burnout, and some 10 percent contemplate suicide.

So much of medicine is a tyranny of perfection. Medical students are asked to absorb an immense body of knowledge…Yet, we act as though this perfection of knowledge is a realistic possibility.  No wonder nearly every student feels like an imposter during his or her training….We’ve been asked for a perfection that is unachievable, yet the system acts as though the expectation is eminently reasonable. It’s no surprise that disillusionment is a prominent feature in the medical landscape today. It’s also no surprise that such burnout is associated with unprofessional behavior and more frequent errors.

Each year (since 2010) we gather medical, nursing and health science students, and resident physicians together for the Telluride Patient Safety Summer Camps in Telluride, CO (now Napa, CA and the Washington DC area as well) for week-long educational sessions, discussing patient safety related topics such as the need for open, honest communication in medicine, the need to honor the patient’s voice, and in the past, the bullying that goes on in the healthcare culture. The hope is that we can empower young change agents that will put a more realistic, positive spin to a culture that seeks to heal versus harm one another, or patients, yet continues to fail on both accounts far too often. The students and residents that take time out of their ever-increasing busy schedules to spend a week of vacation focused on making care safer are some of the most interesting, well-intended and accomplished young people. They have big hearts and the energy to climb the healthcare administrative and cultural mountains required when choosing to open their eyes to the challenges that lie within the healthcare culture. What steps can be taken by those leading today, to clear a safer, more well-rounded path, for their training and well-being? The thought of any one of our Telluride alum experiencing what Ofri and others describe is untenable–as is the thought that there are people posing as healthcare leaders that would allow this to continue.

Today is the day to commit to do things differently. To act upon what your gut is telling you. Today is the day to protect those you lead as they learn!