Patient Interaction

Medical school councilors have good intentions in mind when they steer medical students who realize that direct patient care isn’t their strong suit into pathology. But I am different kind of pathologist – the one who sees (or talks to) patients every day. I am a member of unique subspecialty – Transfusion Medicine – which is the most patient-centric subspecialty of all pathology subspecialties. And, contrary to the popular wisdom, I like seeing patients.

Don’t get me wrong though, my heart and soul still live in the lab, deeply rooted in understanding test performance, troubleshooting and quality control. But direct patient care helps to put all the work I have done in the lab into a perspective.

One program that became especially dear to my heart is our chronic RBC exchange program for the kids and adults with sickle cell anemia who have high risk of developing serious complications from the disease, such as stroke, acute chest syndrome, and severe iron overload. As an apheresis physician I see these patients quite frequently due to the nature of the program – chronic RBC exchanges every 4 to 6 weeks. This also means that I quickly had to learn quite a lot not only about managing the exchanges, but also about patients’ success and failures, spend time explaining to parents the benefits of the program and engaging them to maintain compliance with rigorous schedule. The work is not immediately rewarding. All the adjustments I do to the plan of care show changes in lab values in a month or two at best. But it is not entirely about numbers. Another aspect that makes this program special is when you notice that the kids you treat are doing better at school, have less ED visits and overall live a more fulfilling life.

Sometimes the patient interaction is not as direct as in the case of the sickle cell RBC exchange program. For example, being part of the obstetric team that cares for the patient with severe hemolytic disease of fetus and newborn is also extremely rewarding. And the more challenging clinical question is the more rewarding it is in the end. Just this summer we had a patient who developed an antibody to very high frequency antigen that is present in 99.7% of the population and finding the right donor for intrauterine transfusion involved quite a few people in at least 3 cities.  When all the pages, phone calls, emails, and personal conversations between me and residents, obstetricians, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, and blood suppliers result in a positive outcome for mom and baby – I feel elated. And who wouldn’t?! That is why I enjoy what I do!

-Aleh Bobr MD is currently the medical director of blood bank and tissue services at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, NE. He did his residency in Anatomic and Clinical pathology and Fellowship in Transfusion Medicine at Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN. Prior to that he did his post-doctoral research fellowship in Immunology with focus on dendritic cell biology at University of Minnesota and Yale University. He received his medical degree from Vitebsk State Medical University in Vitebsk, Belarus. Current interests include application of apheresis, platelet refractoriness.

Patient Advocacy: Introduction

“I do not really understand what pathology is,” I said during my first round of interviews at ASCP. “In fact, I have a website page in front of me that describes it and I still do not really get it. I want to be upfront about that before we go any further in my interview process,” I followed. Needless to say, I got the job, but that experience really stuck with me. As I learned more and more about pathology and laboratory medicine, I was amazed that I had not known more about it. I had been to the doctor all my life, I had received some serious diagnoses, and I thought I was pretty well-versed in what my medical care entailed.

In the last few years that I have been with ASCP I have become passionate about educating patients about the role the medical laboratory plays in patient care. Without that understanding, patients will be less empowered and less likely to advocate for themselves. Their family doctors might order tests that they do not want or not order ones they that do. They might not understand certain results, which means that they are less likely to take an active role in their care. The more we education patients and their caregivers about pathology and laboratory medicine, the higher quality health care we create. Educated patients are empowered patients and it is imperative that education includes the laboratory.

Through directing the ASCP Patient Champions program, I have been fortunate to meet incredible patients, all who have some understanding of the role the laboratory played and plays in their care. Hearing them say that without the laboratory, they would only be a memory, is incredibly powerful and humbling. The active role these patients play in their care has allowed them to be more resourceful and more hopeful. For some of them, seeing their own slides has been a cathartic experience because they could suddenly see the enemy they were fighting. Others are now educating new patients about their lab tests and taking time from their own busy schedules to volunteer at hospitals and clinics.

It can also be an inspirational experience for laboratory professionals and pathologists to hear how they impacted a patient’s life. I have personally shed many tears when interviewing patients so I can only imagine what it is like to hear from someone whose life you have impacted, let alone meet them in person. It can also really help patients to have their diagnosis be explained by someone working in the lab and to understand why their blood is drawn or why a biopsy is needed.

This new series on Lablogatory called Patient Advocacy, will explore the topic of patient advocacy from laboratory professional, pathologist, and patient perspectives. Each month, you will hear how patient interactions have impacted lives and what we can do to make more people aware of the crucial role the medical laboratory plays in patient care. You are all changing and saving lives every day. Let’s learn together how we can increase our patient advocacy to help them even more.

-Lotte Mulder, EdM, is the Senior Manager of Organizational Leadership and Patient Engagement at ASCP. She earned her Masters of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. After she graduated, Lotte started her own consulting company focused on establishing leadership practices in organizations, creating effective organizational structures, and interpersonal coaching. She has worked in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the U.S. on increasing leadership skills in young adults through cultural immersion, service learning and refugee issues, and cross-cultural interpretation. She is currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership.

Pathologist and Pathologist-in-Training Engagement as Patient Advocates

I’m used to being surrounded by people who are passionate about transforming systems. I’ve spent many years involved in organizing grassroots movements, health advocacy, and health equity campaigns in the minority and immigrant communities. And the year before I started residency, I studied for a masters degree in public health where I focused on these same issues,  along with more scientific training in molecular and infectious disease epidemiology. But as a resident, I have had to make some tough choices.

Even though I am back in Chicago where I attended college and first got involved working with minority and immigrant health issues, my community organizing, for now, will take a back seat to my education and service duties. And even though I sometimes reminisce about and miss the electrifying momentum involved in pushing toward such social change, I know that once I’m finished my training that I can return to contributing to these movements again on a more personal level. So I’m fine with the decisions I’ve had to make. We all have to make choices about what is most important at that specific time in our lives.

And so as a resident, I’ve focused my thoughts and efforts on how to create a movement within pathology to question our role on the clinical patient care team and to engage those in our profession to respond to this question – reasons why I got more involved with ASCP and CAP. With the gradual implementation of portions of the ACA since 2008 that is now moving into a more palpable phase, pathologists, tech staff, and residents have an opportunity to show our worth to the health care team. We have the opportunity to show that we are the experts in data interpretation and that in terms of more complicated testing such as flow cytometry, cytogenetics, or molecular tests, that the pathologist would be the best person to order the most appropriate tests.

No one knows better that we do what are the costs, indications, and limits of specific tests and despite what non-pathologists may think, we were trained just as they were in how to work up a patient and differential diagnosis. So who better to choose the right test for the right patient at the right time? I know that pathologists have the reputation of being not the most vocal or interactive doctors so how do we engage not just our leaders but also pathologists in general to take more ownership of patient care decisions and to speak up? How do we train our next generation to also see this as the big picture?

In grassroots organizing, strategy requires an understanding of the power dynamics and forces involved in decision making within the system one wants to change. So what drives pathologists and pathologists-in-training and how do we light a fire within our profession not to waste this opportunity that has been provided by health care reform to redefine our role within the patient care team? How do we nurture true patient advocates? I’ve been a little frustrated with these thoughts lately so please leave a comment with suggestions on how you think that we can accomplish these goals.

 

Chung

Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a second year resident physician at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago, IL.