A Trip to Camp

I recently had the opportunity to drive my three girls to sleep-away camp. There had definitely been apprehension mounting in the preceding weeks, and procrastination from me, as this was a new adventure for all of us.

We set out on our 10.5-hour car ride to Arlington, Wash. I kept reinforcing how much fun this was going to be. I even suggested that I could stay at camp while they returned home. I wondered if I was looking forward to it more than they were.

We had to be at camp between 9 and 11 a.m. We chose to be there around 9:30 a.m., so they could feel comfortable that there were other children there and that they weren’t the only ones.

As we pulled into camp, we were greeted by two young women. We rolled down the window and they greeted us, saying, “You three must be Sarah, Rachel, and Leah.” We were impressed that out of 100 children expected, they were able to identify my three kids.

As we parked, we were approached by other counselors and support staff. They introduced themselves and said, “You must be Sarah, Rachel, and Leah. We have been expecting you.” As they loaded the girls’ gear to transport, they started speaking to my oldest, saying, “There are so many unique song birds here” and, “There is a volleyball game later in the afternoon.” As we walked to various registration stations, we were warmly greeted, and each staff person knew a bit more about my kids.

My 8-year-old had been the most skeptical. As we approached her bunk, she was amazed to find that she would be right across from her older sister. By this time, my kids had all but forgotten about leaving home and being at camp for the next two weeks. And I was so pleased with how comfortable they had made my kids feel that it got me to thinking how the camp experience parallels what we are faced with in health care every day.

We treat thousands of people every year, each an individual with a story to tell, a very important story, some fascinating, some heart-wrenching.

This is what makes the relationship between a patient and a physician so valuable. What if we could enhance this experience in a way analogous to the experience my kids had at camp? How can we make the overall experience a comforting one?

I feel that it all starts with a relationship. Understanding who our patients are, their values, and their story all create a “sticky” ecosystem.

Approaching and navigating a healthcare system is daunting, and can be intimidating at times. I have had personal experience of trying to navigate the system. I would say that I am rather well-versed in how the system works, but all that knowledge goes out the window when you or your loved one is ill.

This is where I feel we need to transform. We know our own community, we live in our community, and we treat our teachers and our neighbors. We pride ourselves in being an integral part of the communities we serve.

You may now be wondering why I’m talking about relationships. As a physician and Chief Information Officer, I can appreciate the way technology can improve the way we engage with our community.

As a country we have come a long way.  We have moved past the trough of disillusionment and are on our way toward digitizing our industry.  While we have installed advanced clinical technology we are just starting to see the way we need to integrate and facilitate the movement of data to improve the patient care experience.

The word integrated is very important. In order to build and maintain a fruitful relationship, we need to earn the trust in the care the community entrusts with us. Part of that trust is that we provide clinicians with the most timely information at the most appropriate time.

This integration is a key component to high-quality, efficient health care. This essentially completes the circle (the continuum) of care.  While we have a long way to go we have a path and a plan and I truly believe our patients will benefit from this heavy lifting.  We are in fact transforming a culture.

If you live in East Lansing, Michigan and happen to be visiting family in Savannah, Georgia and you get sick, the physician you see will have complete access to your entire medical record, not a faxed copy.  This is the direction we need to go.  Our mutual patients need to feel just safe anywhere they seek care.

Our patients are slowly demanding this. Medicine and the delivery of care is becoming consumerized.  Some my look at this as the end of the physician patient relationship while I look at it as the best opportunity to truly engage patients in their care.  No other time in the history of modernized medicine has the patient takes such an interest in their own care.  As an industry we would be foolish not to take advantage of this opportunity.

Two weeks later, when I returned to pick up the girls, I sought out the camp director to better understand his system. As it turns out, he asks multiple short questions throughout the year, slowly building out his information on each child (favorite colors, interests, struggles, etc.) for a shared application that the staff reviews prior to camp. Each staff member has a familiarity with each child and can call upon the data to help make the transition as safe and comfortable as possible.

I feel we owe it to our patients and the country provide as comprehensive a care document as possible so we can achieve the triple aim of better health, better care at a lower cost.