Reading minds

I just returned from the DTC National Conference, and it’s taken a few days to wind down from all the excitement. While there, I gave a joint presentation with my colleagues at Targetbase and GSK in which we laid out our approach to supporting people with lupus through our “Speaking of Lupus” program. Later that same day, we won the Gold Award for “Best Patient Support Program” for that very initiative. It was an exciting trip, an exciting day, and probably a once in a lifetime experience. Pretty much everyone I spoke to after I arrived back in North Carolina urged me to write about my experience on my blog. I know it’s good advice, but I put it off because (1) I am really good at putting off blogging, and (2) I really, really wanted to avoid one of those blog posts in which the well-intentioned writer describes how much fun it all was while the unwitting reader struggles to stay awake. So here’s my alternative: It’s a quick story about the challenges inherent in developing empathy. While rehearsing for our “panel discussion”, my wonderful and generous colleague Melissa commented that every time she had a question during my portion of the talk, it was immediately answered in the moments that followed. “How did you know exactly what I was wondering about?”, she asked. “It’s like you were reading my mind. Every time a question popped into my head, in the next few seconds, you answered it.” So you can see why I describe Melissa as wonderful and generous. What an awesome compliment! And it meant a lot...

Your satisfaction is important to us

I’ve recently had a series of appointments with various health care providers, so I’ve been asked to complete some post-visit satisfaction questionnaires. My experiences have been less than satisfying, and reminded me of my experiences a couple of years ago after a lengthy diagnostic episode followed by surgery. Here’s what I wrote at the time, and I’m sorry to say that at least for me, nothing has changed in three years. I wonder if others are having more positive experiences, or if my experience is typical. Read on… I’ve had a lot of “health care encounters” over the past few months. And while it’s been stressful, I’ve been lucky because my health problems have not been life-threatening – mostly just the “woman-meets-midlife” variety. There was the lengthy build up to surgery, the surgery itself, and now I’m recovering. It feels great to be (almost) done with this particular chapter in my life. Not surprisingly, I’ve seen a lot of doctors and I’ve had lots of diagnostic tests over the past few months. After many of these encounters I’ve been asked to complete satisfaction questionnaires. “Your satisfaction is important to us”, they all begin. Sorry, but that’s a little like the now-infamous, “Your call is important to us”. You know the joke: After waiting on hold forever, you don’t really believe that your call is important to anyone. Similarly, after seeing the questionnaires I’ve seen, it’s hard to believe that my satisfaction is important to anyone. It’s clearly not important enough to measure it very well. Before you assume that I was looking at the questionnaires with a critic’s eye,...

Designing health interventions for everyone

The other day I was telling a neighbor about a behavioral intervention I am working on that is intended to promote self-management of a chronic condition. This isn’t my usual neighborly chit-chat, but he had asked for some specifics about the work I do, so I was giving him a rough overview (being careful, of course, to disguise the actual project). My neighbor, a very friendly guy, asked an unexpected question. Was my intervention was really “just for women “or “more oriented to females”? He explained that he felt men wouldn’t need the intervention. Men would just set a goal and meet the goal. Whoo-boy. Where to start? I explained that in general, gender differences aren’t necessarily the most important factors to consider when it comes to adapting to chronic disease. And when they are, they’re often proxies for other variables. Things like emotional well-being, family support, medication side effects, coping styles, etc. tend to be more important in predicting which patients are likely to have trouble adapting to life-changing illness. (For a great article on gender differences in general, you might want to read this paper by Carothers and Reis.) But back to my neighbor: I think his question points to a common cultural assumption: Needing help is feminine. And being goal-oriented is male. Since women actually give birth to babies, some of which are very large babies, I’m not sure where this assumption comes from. But it does make me wonder what, if anything, those of us who are designing health interventions must do to accommodate “gender differences”. It might just be a mistake to look at...