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Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy: Are Patients Making Good Decisions?

An outcomes article in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery asks the question: “Are patients making high-quality decisions about breast reconstruction after mastectomy?”

The objective of the study was to “measure women’s knowledge about reconstruction and to evaluate the degree to which treatments reflected patients’ goals and preferences.” Their conclusion (bold emphasis is mine):

Women treated with mastectomy in this study were not well-informed about breast reconstruction. Treatments were associated with patients’ goals and concerns, however, and patients were highly involved in their decisions. Knowledge deficits suggest that breast cancer patients would benefit from interventions to support their decision making.

Granted the study was small, but it left me wondering if we the medical community fails to educate these women.  

The study involved a cross-sectional survey of early-stage breast cancer survivors from four university medical centers. The survey included measures of knowledge about specific reconstruction facts, personal goals and concerns, and involvement in decision making. Only 84 patients participated (59 percent response rate). Participants answered only 37.9 percent of knowledge questions correctly. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

It’s Time To Tango: Impatient With Progress On Patient-Physician Partnership

The other day I came across this photo of a couple clasping each other in a dramatic tango on the cover of an old medical journal – a special issue from 1999 that was focused entirely on doctor-patient partnership. The tone and subjects of the articles, letters and editorials were identical to those written today on the topic: “It’s time for the paternalism of the relationship between doctors and patients to be transformed into a partnership;” “There are benefits to this change and dangers to maintaining the status quo;” “Some doctors and patients resist the change and some embrace it: Why?”

Two questions struck me as I impatiently scanned the articles from 12 years ago: First, why are these articles about doctor-patient partnership still so relevant? And second, why did the editor choose this cover image?

I’ve been mulling over these questions for a couple days, and I think an answer to the second question sheds light on the first. Here are some thoughts about the relationship between patients and doctors (and nurse practitioners and other clinicians) evoked by that image of the two elegant people dancing together:

It takes two to tangoEver seen one guy doing the tango? Nope. Whatever he’s doing out there on the dance floor, that’s not tango. Without both dancers, there is no tango. The reason my doctor and I come together is our shared purpose of curing my illness or easing my pain. We bring different skills, perspectives and needs to this interaction. When in a partnership, I describe my symptoms and recount my history. I talk about my values and priorities. I say what I am able and willing to do for myself and what I am not.  My doctor has knowledge about my disease and experience treating it in people like me; she explains risks and tradeoffs of different approaches and tailors her use of drugs, devices, and procedures to meet my needs and my preferences. Both of us recognize that without the active commitment of the other we can’t reach our shared goal: To help me live as well as I can for as long as I can.

Each dancer adjusts to his or her partnerIn tango, each partner has different moves; the lead shifts subtly and constantly between them throughout the dance. In a partnership, when I am really ill, I delegate more decisions to my physicians; when I am well we freely go back and forth, discussing treatment options and making plans. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at CFAH PPF Blog*

You Are “The Biggest Wasted Resource In Health Care” has posted a great new piece by Dr. Roni Zeiger entitled, “The Biggest Wasted Resource in Health Care? You.” Subtitle: “How Your Internet Research Can Help Your Relationship With Your Doctor.” It’s well reasoned and clearly written, and continues the trend we cited a month ago, when Time posted Dr. Zack Meisel’s article saying that patients who Google can help doctors.

Related notes:

– Dr. Zeiger’s article title parallels what Dr. Charles Safran told the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on Health in 2004: Patients are “the most under-utilitized resource.” He was talking about health IT, quoting his colleague Dr. Warner Slack, who had said it many years earlier. I often quote it in my speeches for the Society for Participatory Medicine, asserting that it applies not just to IT but to all of healthcare.

– Dr. Zeiger is on the editorial board of our Journal of Participatory Medicine and is Chief Health Strategist at Google. He gets the power of patient engagement deeply and clearly. Last fall he posted a prediction that in the future it might be malpractice for doctors not to prescribe a patient community to help you help yourself with your conditions.

Prediction: Googling and patient networks will become essential as we move toward the practice of shared medical decision making (SMDM). I know firsthand that the information my kidney cancer community gave me about coping with treatments went well beyond what my excellent clinicians could offer. (We’re starting a series on SMDM. The first entry was in December.)

*This blog post was originally published at*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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