The “good,” the “difficult” and the “reality”: patients in the digital age

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

With apologies to Sergio Leone.  And to you, for making you read that really bad pun.  Just move along.

In an engaging and thought-provoking perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Louise Aronson described her experience in getting treatment for her father, who was suffering from low blood pressure and other health issues.  Her father was admitted to the hospital and went through examinations and fluctuations in his health during his stay.  He seemed to stabilize but then his blood pressure dropped again and Dr. Aronson asked for someone to come and check on him.  The staff was polite but non-committal and she decided to perform an exam on him herself to check if he had internal bleeding.  He did, she obtained evidence, and her father received rapid care to prevent further blood loss. 

She relayed this story in the context of how health care providers often bin patients and their support networks into “good” and “difficult” categories, based on how much and how often those patients acquiesce rather than challenge or even seek information about ongoing treatments.  As she describes it, the staff “were polite, but their unspoken message was that they were working hard, my father wasn’t their only patient, and they had appropriately prioritized their tasks. ” Her message was that the medical profession needs a cultural shift,in which patients and their families whom are more actively engaged in their care are seen as an asset, not a detriment to medical practice.  She also suggested some practical elements that would help this, including tracking more clearly when patient engagement occurs and rewarding it through changes in billing codes and practices. Continue reading

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Gaming to help beat cancer

All opinions my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

Plants versus Zombies 2: It’s About Time just came out.  My son spent a significant fraction of his weekend playing it on my iPad.  Okay, fine, I did too.  It’s a lot of fun, it challenges (but not too much) and it teaches you facts like, uh, like that Egyptian society in the past had a real fascination with pyramids.

So it’s not the most educational of games.

Which is why I was stoked to see the writeup of Re-Mission 2 in FierceBiotechIT.  This game takes elements of cancer treatment and places them in the context of a game that both educates patients undergoing cancer treatment as well as provides them a way to feel more in control of their situation.  Version 2 also builds on the impact of the first Re-Mission game, which showed success in improving adherence of patients to their treatment regimens.  Adherence is an important element of medical treatment and trying to make sure people take their medicines is an ongoing problem as we try to improve the efficiency of our healthcare systems.

In addition to behavioral metrics being changed by Re-Mission, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) also showed that playing the game activated brain areas associated with motivation–again, tying gameplay to elements of adherence.  Some brain region activations also correlated with subject described positive and improved attitudes towards chemotherapy after gameplay. Continue reading