Have a Story to Tell? Had a medical error?

This blog is about patient safety, medical malpractice, staying healthy, and preventing future errors. Help & empower someone else, Teach a lesson, Bear witness, Build our community - Email us or call 781-444-5525.

Frustrated with a health problem?

Need an ally in your health crisis? Call 781-444-5525, or learn more.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Too little and too much: Inappropriate treatment

On Tuesday, I had the great pleasure of participating in the kickoff of a group of 60 health care leaders who are coming together in the Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) project in Eastern Massachusetts. The group is setting a bold goal to provide healthcare more appropriately. Barbra Rabson and Prof. Stuart Altman are the primary investigators on the planning grant awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

There are two kinds of inappropriate care: too little, and too much. In my own family we've had both, with great harm to my aunt and uncle. My Aunt Anne lived for many years in Denver, by herself, and enjoyed traveling widely and taking part actively in the city's cultural events. I never heard her complain about poor health, and we assumed she was fine. I only learned, after her death, that she had had adult onset diabetes. She herself had learned that only late in life, when she had a blood test before having cataract surgery. She hadn't trusted doctors, and had seen them too rarely. One day she complained to a close nurse friend of pain in her foot, and showed her the foot. Already black and gangrenous from the poor circulation caused by diabetes, much of it had to be amputated – which greatly reduced her mobility and crushed her spirit. Within a year or so, she had a fatal heart attack. When we cleaned out her possessions in her apartment, we found many pill bottles, each almost full. She would comply with a new prescription only for a couple of days, and if the medicine didn't work immediately, she apparently would stop taking it.

She got too little treatment, and too little education, for her diabetes. She didn't partner with her doctors, or any other health professionals, costing this vibrant woman years of life.

My Uncle Leon lived in the Washington DC area for most of his adult life. He trusted his doctor fully – to the extent of having him perform multiple angioplasties. Even so, he had several heart attacks. It's hard to believe that all of the angioplasties were appropriate. It seems he had too much inappropriate surgery, and too little effective education about self-care and prevention.

Neither Anne nor Leon received appropriate care. The partnerships they had with their medical teams were ineffective at keeping them healthy. The AF4Q brings together clinicians in hospitals with insurers, government agencies, and consumers. Hopefully this collaboration will strengthen the partnerships between doctors and patients, to make treatment more appropriate.

Read a story on unnecessary surgery.

No comments: