Friday, August 18, 2017

Health Caring Post-Charlottesville?

By: Mike Magee, M.D., Health Commentary

Photo of Dr. Mike Magee
Dr. Mike Magee
Collectively health professionals have a unique role in American society. Across cities and counties, rural and urban, we are asked to be available and accessible to help keep people well and respond when they are sick or injured. Those wounds come in all shapes and sizes – wounds to the body, wounds to the mind, wounds to the spirit. As important as are our diagnostic and therapeutic interventions to society, they pale in comparison to a larger, often over-looked function. Together, collectively, we process day to day, hour to hour, the fears and worries of our people, and in performing this function, create a more stable, more secure, more accepting and more loving nation.

With Charlottesville etched in the American psyche, good-willed Americans are in search of our true center. As a physician, I recall patients whose goodness and courage and kindness brought out the best in me and my colleagues. That after all is the true privilege and reward for doctors and nurses and all health professionals – the right to care.

Nearly six years ago, my wife and I were blessed with the arrival of our eighth and ninth grandchildren – two little girls, Charlotte and Luca. We were also introduced, for the first time as health consumers, to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The girls came early, at 34 weeks, and struggled to work their way back up to their due date. They are doing great today, but in those early days, it wasn’t easy on them or their parents or the care teams committed to their well being.
Viewing them from my grandparent perch, the Connecticut Children’s Hospital Center NICU team at Hartford Hospital did a great job, balancing high tech with high touch, providing wisdom and reassurance, inclusion and training to the girls’ parents, who were inclusively inducted as part of the team on day one. Viewing it all from my vantage point as a former surgeon, hospital administrator and health policy analyst, I was impressed, but not surprised.

When people claim that “America has the best health care,” they’re usually referencing groups of highly skilled doctors and nurses and other caring professionals, committed to their patients and to each other, armed with experience, judgment and technology to – collectively – heal and provide health, and keep us whole in the process. It’s really a holy thing to observe.

What that NICU experience illustrates is that we health professionals are fully capable of collaborative and humanistic care, especially when faced with a complex crisis. But the challenge today, in the face of purposeful Presidential segregation of our citizenry, is to extend the same blend of knowledge, skill, compassion and partnership to all patients on a day-to-day basis. How do we assist them in creating healthy homes, healthy families and healthy communities?

If you deconstruct the success factors embedded in our NICU experience, what do you find, independent of the scientific skills, sophisticated technology and ultra-focus on the patient?

There are three elements that are worthy of note.

  1. Inclusion: For most humans, the first instinct when faced with trauma or threat is flight. And yet, these NICU professionals’ first instinct was inclusion. With IVs running, and still groggy from her C-section, our daughter and her husband were wheeled to the NICU and introduced to their 3 lb. daughters. They were shown how to wash their hands carefully, how to hold the babies safely and without fear, and – while given no guarantees – experienced the transfer of confidence from the loving and capable caring professionals to them. Those were remarkable first day gifts to this young couple.
  2. Knowledge: Coincident with the compassionate introduction to their daughters, there was a seamless transfer of information – each of their daughter’s current conditions, an explanation of the machines and their purposes, the potential threats that were being actively managed, and the likely chance of an excellent outcome. This knowledge – clear, concise, unvarnished, understandable – delivered softly, calmly, and compassionately, reinforced these young and fearful parents’ confidence and trust in each other, and in their care team, on whose performance their newborn daughters’ lives now depended.
  3. Accessibility: Clearly a NICU is a 24/7 operation. But that alone did not assure that the needs of these patients and their family would be met. First, members of their care team needed to demonstrate “presence.” By this I mean, by communication, touch, voice, and face, they needed to connect to the parents, to signal that they cared for these unique individuals. The outreach needed to be “personal.” This was not a rote exercise for them, not just another set of parents, not just another set of tiny babies. These were these specific parents’ precious children, their lives, their futures were now in the balance. And the performance needed to be “professional.” The team needed to be consistent and collaborative, with systems and processes in place, no descent and little variability in performance, rapid response, anticipatory diagnostics and confident timely management of issues as they arose.

As we recover as a nation from Charlottesville and Trump’s self-inflicted wounds, we caring health professionals need to mirror a better way – holistic and inclusive, humanistic and scientific, where goodness and fairness reside side-by-side. How might each of us actively demonstrate a commitment to inclusion, knowledge transfer and accessibility, and in doing so, assure that our patients respond with confidence and trust in America?

**Reprinted with permission

Read Dr. Mike Magee's blog online, "POST-CHARLOTTESVILLE – WE NEED CARING HEALTH PROFESSIONALS MORE THAN EVER!"

Friday, August 11, 2017

Drug Importation Policy is a Hard Pill to Swallow

By: Brandon M. Macsata, CEO, ADAP Advocacy Association

When I first heard the news that Congress was considering legislation that would allow prescription drugs to be imported from abroad, I was honestly quite shocked. I know firsthand how such policy can negatively impact consumers who decide to purchase drugs from abroad. The potential consequences are quite daunting.

In 2002 (just shy of my 30th birthday), I was diagnosed with HIV. When my doctor told me the news, a hundred questions came to mind all at once. What was my long-term prognosis? What types of medications would I have to take? Who could I turn to with my questions about life with HIV?


(Editor's Note: The photo of me was taken in 2002 on Easter Sunday during the time that I was importing my HIV medications. At the time, I was still quite sick after experiencing my acute seroconversion. In fact, in this photo my two best friends are literally helping me stand up, and they made me look "presentable" with some make-up. The benefits of rooming with two wonderful women who took care of me.)

What happened next directly shaped my viewpoint of the dangers associated with importation.

I ordered medications from an online Canadian pharmacy. To this day, I have no way of knowing where the drugs were made or if they contained the active ingredients I needed to effectively treat my condition.

At the time, I opted not to consult my physician in the process. Due to my insurance coverage, my out-of-pocket cost was $1,300 during the second month of treatment. For two months, I received medications via mail from Canada. Honestly, I didn’t even entertain the idea of whether the medicines were real or fake.

Fortunately, my doctor intervened and advised me of the reality of what I was doing. She told me that drugs purchased through online channels are often counterfeit and most likely do not contain any ingredients that help patients. In many cases, the ingredients can be deadly. Without even knowing it, I was rolling the dice with my health and safety. It was an eye opening intervention and one that too few patients ever experience before irreparable damage has been done.

Without question, we need to address the issue of rising health care costs in the United States, which greatly contributes to patients buying medicines online. However, legalizing importation isn’t the solution we need. It will undoubtedly lead more patients to risk their health and, ultimately, their lives through online drug purchases.

Consider the following: The World Health Organization estimates that 10 percent of medicines across the world are fake. In some parts of the world, this number is as high as 30 percent. In 2015, Interpol confiscated nearly 21 million fake medicines, a significant increase over the previous year.

As a society, why would we take our guard down when the threat is so high? As someone who is informed on health care issues (even at the time of my diagnosis), my search for Canadian pharmacies did little to warn me against the dangers. I had little knowledge or available information when I ordered medications from Canada.

Rather than open the floodgates to unregulated medicines, we should be doing more to ensure the safety and integrity of our drug supply. Last month, former FBI Director Louis Freeh released a report highlighting the incentives that drug importation would create for criminals who are actively marketing to consumers in the U.S. and the burden it would place on law enforcement who protect our drug supply.

Among his recommendations to be proactive on the issue, Mr. Freeh urges policymakers to conduct a detailed assessment of law enforcement’s readiness and ability to get in front of the threat that exists. I completely agree with Mr. Freeh - this should be our focus.

As we strengthen our defenses, we must also prioritize patient education and engagement initiatives to ensure that we’re deterring importation from the moment of diagnosis. The reality is that a number of online pharmacies with a Canadian flag attached to them are merely front doors for smugglers operating in countries across the globe.

There are viable ideas to combat the rising cost of healthcare – including prescription medications – but importation is not one of them.

Over the past two decades, we’ve made significant progress against HIV/AIDS. Today, there are medications available that we didn’t have just a few years ago. In fact, recent studies have shown that people in North America and Europe who are infected with HIV and who begin treatment with a triple-drug cocktail can expect to live nearly as long as people who aren’t infected by the virus.

Having lived with HIV for nearly 15 years, I know how important medicine is in achieving a sense of normalcy again. If we embrace drug importation, we’re sending a signal to patients across the country that their health and safety don’t matter. Lawmakers should not be playing a game of chance when patient lives hang in the balance.

This opinion piece was also published in the August 11th edition of the Washington Blade.