Visualizing insomnia

Posted July 2nd, 2015 by

Jenna Martin is a photographer living with insomnia, and her sleeplessness is the inspiration behind much of her work. Much like the Seeing [MS] campaign, she tries to visualize her experiences through unique photographs that capture what it feels like to manage bouts of insomnia.

Her photographs were recently featured in the Huffington Post, and as she told the organization, “on average, I only get a few hours of sleep every three days or so. During a bad bout, I’ll go close to five days with no sleep. When that happens, reality and the dream world become switched in a way: reality is very hazy and hard to remember, and any sleep I do get has dreams that are incredibly vivid. Everything starts to blend together; I’ll begin seeing things from a third person perspective and it’s hard to tell if I’m awake or if I’m dreaming.”

Check out some of her pictures below, and see more of her work on her Facebook page.

Jenna Martin Photography

Jenna Martin Photography

Jenna Martin Photography

If you are living with insomnia, you’re not alone – over 2,200 people on PatientsLikeMe know what you’re going through. You can also visit the Sleep Issues forum to ask questions and learn more about sleep (or lack thereof).

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Chris Hannah, founder of CHSG, talks cluster headaches, clinical trials and more

Posted June 29th, 2015 by

In the beginning of June, we posted about National Headache and Migraine Awareness Month, and today, we’re continuing the conversation with Chris Hannah, the founder of Cluster Headache Support Group (CHSG). He recently sat down for a PatientsLikeMe blog interview, and he spoke at length about everything related to cluster headaches. Below, read what he had to say about PatientsLikeMe, new drug treatments for cluster headaches and his own personal experience with “the worst pain he has ever felt.”

What do you feel is the most important information people should know about cluster headaches vs. other types of headaches?

First and foremost, if you are a cluster headache sufferer, it is important to know that you are not alone. It may seem that way since so many have never even heard of it and often mistake it as just another name for a regular headache. It is actually one of the most painful conditions known to medical science (you can Google that). It’s also not a form of migraine, it is a primary headache disorder but is quite different from migraine in many ways, especially given its odd periodicity where sufferers will have attacks at the same time of day, even the same time of year, over and over again. The pain is excruciating, typically centered around the eye on one side of the head. It also is accompanied by parasympathetic nerve response, causing tearing of the eye, eyelid drooping, running or blocked sinus, and ear ringing. It is quite disorienting when it occurs, and may occur 8 or more times in a single day lasting from 30-90 minutes typically. An attack may also be triggered at any time by consuming alcohol, chemical or perfume smells, second-hand smoke, and many foods.

For those who know someone diagnosed with cluster headache, please know that they are dealing with an insidious and debilitating condition. They are most likely under the guidance of a highly skilled neurologist who specializes in headache disorders. It may be hard for them to socialize as they did before onset, even with family and close friends, because they fear having an attack in public. Where migraineurs can lay their head down, cluster headache sufferers are unable to stay still, often including odd behavior like slapping their head or walking in small circles. This is not a conscious choice, rather the body’s way of dealing with the intensity of the pain. Please give them space but also your compassionate support. They are not looking for things to try that you may have heard about. They are probably experts in all options available to them as is the case with many chronic pain conditions and rare diseases.

How do you feel CHSG.org members might also benefit by becoming members of PatientsLikeMe?

I think one of the key benefits of PatientsLikeMe is codifying anecdotal data that all too often gets lost in the daily dialog of our support group. I think both are still very important, especially in terms of the experience and expertise of the community. Keep in mind that as a global organization, we benefit from the patients of some of the greatest minds in healthcare from all of the major headache centers, along with the many years of experience of many of the members. Although we have that information capital, turning that into quantifiable data for research can be quite challenging. PatientsLikeMe helps us translate each person’s experience with treatments, symptoms, co-existing conditions, and emotional well being into aggregated data that may help clearly identify new research targets, correlations to other disorders or demographics, even the number of patients who suffer similar disorders. It is done so in a positive way, helping the patient with excellent recording and tracking capabilities, even a doctor’s visit report. At the same time, it is helping to accumulate data over time across a diverse patient audience all living with the same disorder. We have a name for this ongoing data collection, reporting, research cycle, called SpiralResearch. We frankly see this collaborative approach as the future path of medical research for rare disorders in comparison to the onerous process of enrolling people in a point in time survey or one-off study that eventually gets published in summary as a document in hopes that someone will take it further, or better, correlate the results across many publications. We think there is an opportunity for greater synergy and insight in the process of continuous data gathering and analysis.

Do you have a personal cluster headache story you’d care to share with the PatientsLikeMe community?

I was in the prime of my career in the pharmaceutical industry when I initially encountered the worst pain I had ever felt. I was at a Harry Potter movie with my family and had to go straight to the emergency room. I truly thought I was going to die. It took six months from that point to get a diagnosis of cluster headache. Unfortunately, due to its rarity, approximately .3% of the population, even healthcare professionals are not all that familiar with it and may have never seen a case. I ended up getting a clear diagnosis first at the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia and a second opinion confirmation from the Cleveland Clinic Headache Center. Until then, I was prescribed opioid pain killers which were largely ineffective. I was having on average 8 attacks per day interspersed with an ongoing baseline headache that made it hard to do anything. Of course, I didn’t sleep much either during that time and actually was housebound for most of the time, like I dropped off the face of the earth. That’s not easy for a man with a family, friends, a high profile job, and an avid golfer and outdoorsman. I had no idea such a thing even existed until I got it myself.

I searched out any and all information about cluster headaches. I found some online communities, but frankly, I did not like them much. They were full of people who were self medicating, self harming, and there were frequent issues of suicide. In fact, cluster headache is nicknamed the “suicide headache” because the effects are so profound on daily living. I decided there must be a better way, especially a way to work within the healthcare system, with pharma and other organizations to improve the quality of life and the resources available to cluster headache sufferers. There remain no preventive treatments specifically indicated for cluster headache although there are some partially effective off-label medications typically prescribed with varying results. For some like me who are chronic sufferers, finding relief is a long path. It is a life-long disorder, incurable currently. We hope to change that. In fact, since starting CHSG in 2010 and incorporating in 2012 as a 501c3 nonprofit organization, we have contributed to several new clinical studies and have even introduced effective treatment options through the headache centers we touch. We also offer a safe, compassionate place for sufferers to learn, share, connect, and engage with activities like our integration of PatientsLikeMe in our overall strategy of spiraling toward a cure.

In your opinion, what are the most promising drug treatments available to people suffering from cluster headaches? What about clinical trials—do you feel people with cluster headaches are good candidates for new drugs still in clinical trials?

We (CHSG) have most recently been working to trial ketamine infusion therapy in the hospital setting with excellent results that will, in fact, be published this year in Cephalgia and Neurology. Ketamine got a bad name from illegal street abuse, but in fact it is an approved, safe, and effective treatment for several neurological disorders, pain, and anesthesia. It is also opioid reducing, meaning it reduces dependency on opioid pain killers for chronic pain. Opiods are highly addictive and in the case of chronic pain conditions, often have diminishing efficacy, so people take more or seek stronger pain relievers. It’s not a viable path. Ketamine, on the other hand, is effective, non-addictive, and has a short half-life in the body. One of the most compelling effects of ketamine infusion therapy is based on neuroplasticity, meaning the brain actually has the opportunity to create new pain pathways, eliminating the “broken” and overexcited pathways common to chronic pain conditions. This is currently my primary treatment.

Another interesting avenue we are pursuing is that of TRP Channel antagonists, specifically TRP V1, A1, and M8. TRP channels are a basic mammalian sensory system that react quickly to certain noxious stimuli, including bright light, chemical smells, certain tastes like the hot in hot pepper, atmospheric pressure change and mild temperature increases. Interestingly enough, these specific stimuli are also the most common triggers for both migraine and cluster headache. There are several candidates currently in the pipelines of both biopharm and pharma as TRP channel antagonists. We do have some work to do to initiate evaluation for cluster headache and migraine and are actively in pursuit.

For many sufferers, there are viable medications that show efficacy at least for a time. Most do have to switch medications throughout their course due to taking relatively high dosage levels of “borrowed” medications primarily indicated for blood pressure regulation, anti-seizure, or serotonin gating. The high dosage levels prescribed for cluster headache introduce many side effects, including heart arrhythmia, low blood pressure, dizziness, severe fatigue, and even confusion. There are also two very good abortive approaches. Sumatriptan injection is effective for most, but limited to no more than 2/day and 4/wk which leaves quite a gap. High-flow oxygen at 12-15LPM also works for many and is quite safe with little side effect. Unfortunately, there is no complete solution yet for most sufferers.

How to you feel tracking or logging on to websites like ours is useful in terms of identifying headache triggers, learning about pain-management therapies, and moving researchers to find treatments for cluster headaches?

There simply can’t be too much real information, but making sense of it can be quite a challenge for the patient, especially in the mix of so much misinformation on the Internet. PatientsLikeMe and CHSG both help distill that information into a quickly understandable and informative format that is based on both experience and research. There is always more to learn, more options to consider, and new information coming from the ongoing collection of data across a wide base of users. Distilling that down into an easily digestible form is what PatientsLikeMe does best, in my opinion. It’s not just about patient tracking and learning about their own conditions, which is quite important; it is also about looking at the data across the patient base and identifying key commonalities and correlations that may not have been visible previously. This information is shared freely with all patients, ongoing. That “informing” process makes better patients, frankly, and puts the knowledge in their hands to help them better manage the dialog with their healthcare provider and others. It builds up the community both individually and as a patient group.

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The Patient Voice- PTS member David shares his story

Posted June 27th, 2015 by

Today is PTS Awareness Day, so we wanted you to meet PatientsLikeMe community member Cpl. David Jurado, who lives with post-traumatic stress (PTS). David developed PTS while serving in the military. After he retired, he continued to deal with daily symptoms, and he encourages members to connect with others on PatientsLikeMe, because “if you want to make changes for yourself and the PTS community, you’ve got to share your story. The same thing may be happening to them.”

David is not alone – and neither are you. There are more than 1,000 vets living with PTS that are part of the community. We’ve heard members like David talk about how important it is for them to connect with people who ‘get it.’

Not a veteran living with PTS? You’re not alone either. With more than 8,000 PTS members, it’s easy for anyone with PTS to share their story and get support.

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ORE Researcher Series: Tamara Kear is listening to kidney patients

Posted June 25th, 2015 by

Over the next few months, you’ll meet a few Open Research Exchange (ORE) researchers, and first up is Tamara Kear, PhD., R.N., CNS, CNN. She has over 20 years’ practice as a nurse caring for patients with kidney disease. Her research is focused on hypertension, one of the factors that can lead to a person developing kidney disease.

Tamara has developed a scale for healthcare providers that helps them learn how well a patient is doing at home and identify barriers they are experiencing in managing their hypertension. Her goal is to develop a better tool. In her video, she explains her ORE research and her philosophy that patients should be “not just informers for researchers, but actually the researchers themselves.”

What exactly is the ORE? PatientsLikeMe’s ORE platform gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their feedback on each question in a researcher’s health measure. They can tell our research partners what makes sense, what doesn’t, and how relevant the overall tool is to their condition. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.

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Patient, caregiver, wife and mother – Georgiapeach85 shares about her experiences with MS and her husband’s PTS

Posted June 22nd, 2015 by

Ashleigh (Georgiapeach85) is a little bit different than your typical PatientsLikeMe member – not only is she living with multiple sclerosis, she also a caregiver for her husband Phil, who has been diagnosed with PTS. In her interview, Ashleigh shares her unique perspective gained from her role as a patient and caregiver, and how PatientsLikeMe has helped her to look for a person’s character, not their diagnosis. Read about her journey below.

Hi Ashleigh! Tell us a little about yourself and your husband.
Hi! I am 29 and my husband Phil is 33. We have been married for 9 and a half years, and we have a son who is almost two :) . I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS in July 2009 just before my 24th birthday. My husband served in the Army Reserves for just over six years and did one tour in Afghanistan in 2002. I met him while he was going through his Med Board and discharge. We met while working at Best Buy – he was Loss Prevention, the ones in the yellow shirts up front – and I was a cashier and bought him a coke on his first day :) . We dated for nine months, were engaged for six, and got married and haven’t looked back!

What was your husband’s PTS diagnosis experience like?
It has been hard as his wife to see him struggle with first acknowledging that he had stronger reactions to small things in life than most people would and that perhaps he should seek outside help and then the struggle to get the care he needs from the VA. He is finally seeing a counselor next week after requesting he be evaluated for PTS a year ago. He has never had insurance other than the VA so has to rely on their lengthy processes for treatment. He was given a preliminary evaluation in March for the claim and was told that he definitely needed to be seen further, but then the VA made no follow up.

One of his manifestations is getting very frustrated very quickly, so I try to make all of his doctor appointments for him so he doesn’t have to deal with the wait times and rudeness from the VA employees. I have spent hours on the phone getting the right forms filled out and referrals done. I am proud of him for not giving up on it and seeing that he needs to learn some situational coping strategies so that we can enjoy life as a family. Phil loves camping and the outdoors where things are peaceful and open, so we belong to a private camping club and he loves to take our son and dog up there to get away.

You have a unique perspective as both an MS patient and a caregiver for your husband. Can you speak about your role as a caregiver and some of the challenges you face?
The biggest challenge I face is remembering his reactions to crowds and loud stimulating environments when we are choosing where to go. We have had to leave restaurants because they have been so busy and crowded just waiting for a table that he gets very panicked and apprehensive about being able to get to an exit quickly. He does just fine most places, but crowds and small areas stress him out. I handle making all of my appointments for my MS and his for his medical needs so it can be stressful sometimes while trying to work full time and be a mom.

How has PatientsLikeMe helped you expand your role as a caregiver?
I am just exploring the Post-Traumatic Stress section to see what others are experiencing. I never even thought about getting support for being a caregiver for Phil, I just always assumed he was the only one with caregiving responsibilities for me, but I see that I need to learn what I can about what he is going through so that I can give back the support he has given me over the years and through my diagnosis. Just as I want to be open about my MS, but don’t want it to define me as a person, Phil wants to learn to address his experience in Afghanistan and how he reacts to situations outside his control, but doesn’t want to be defined by a label of PTS. PatientsLikeMe has helped me to look for a person’s character, not their diagnosis. I have met many wonderful people and it is a great relief to know I can log on and vent or seek guidance from people all over the world.

What has been the most helpful part of the PatientsLikeMe site with regards to your MS?
Well I found the best neurologist ever through the site by looking up people who were on Low-Dose Naltrexone for their MS (which is an off-label prescription my former neurologist thought was not worth pursuing), then I sorted by those geographically closest to me, and I sent them a private message as to who prescribed them LDN. One of the members gave me Dr. English’s name at the MS Center of Atlanta, and that center has been a godsend for the care and advancements I have been exposed to. In a similar circumstance, I have made a new friend when a lady two years older than me found me under a search for those in her area and through messaging we found out that her son and mine were born on the same day, just one year apart! She lives 10 minutes away and Phil and I have become friends with her and her husband and that has been so great to have a female friend my age, with MS, and with a young child. Beyond the connections, being able to search for a medication and seeing how it is working for others and their reviews has been immensely helpful.

What’s one piece of advice you have for other caregivers who are also managing their own chronic conditions?
Just because there might not be a cure doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot about life and yourself in the journey for caring for someone you love. Learn to take the good days with the bad and be thankful for life and being around to give support. In my case, I care for my spouse whom I love with all my heart and will be with for the rest of our lives. You have to view the big picture when you get caught up in the stress of day-to-day or certain circumstances, it’s the only perspective you can take when you’re in it for the long haul :) . Also, don’t feel guilty when you need to take a break for yourself, you are only good for others when you have charged yourself up.

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Recapping with our Team of Advisors!

Posted June 19th, 2015 by

Many of you will remember meeting our inaugural Team of Advisors from when we first shared about this exciting team last year! This group of 14 were selected from over 500 applicants in the community and have been incredible in their dedication and desire to bring the patient voice directly to PatientsLikeMe. As the team is wrapping up their year-long term as advisors, we wanted to make sure we update the community on all the hard work they’ve done on your behalf!

First Ever In-Person Patient Summit in Cambridge
Your team of patient advisors travelled from all over the country to join us for 2 days here in Cambridge. They met with PatientsLikeMe staff, got a tour of the offices and began their collaboration together as a team!

Blog Series
The advisors have also been connecting with the broader community as part of an ongoing series here on the blog! This is an impressive group and we hope you’ll read through to learn more about the team.  Some of the interviews featured so far include profiles on BeckyLisaDanaEmilieKarla, Deb, AmySteve, Charles, Letitia and Kitty. If you haven’t had the chance to read their stories and what they’re passionate about yet, feel free to check these out!

Best Practices Guide for Researchers
As part of their mission, this group discussed how to make research more patient-centric and ways that researchers can learn to better engage with patients as partners. Out of this work, the team developed and published the ‘Best Practices Guide for Researchers’, a comprehensive written guide outlining steps for how researchers can meaningfully engage patients throughout the research process. You can hear more about the whole process in this exciting video from some members of the team as they discuss their experiences with the creation of this guide:

Community Champions
The advisors have been wonderful community champions throughout the year, providing invaluable feedback about what it’s like to be a person living with chronic conditions and managing their health. This team has weighed in on new research initiatives, served as patient liaisons and been vocal representatives for you and your communities here on PatientsLikeMe. Whether it was sitting down with a research team to give their thoughts on new projects, discussing their experiences with clinical trials, giving feedback about medical record keeping or opening up about patient empowerment – this group has been tireless in representing the patient voice and PatientsLikeMe community!

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Kitty

Posted June 18th, 2015 by

Kitty represents the mental health community on the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, and she’s always ready to extend a helping hand. She’s a social worker who specializes in working with children in foster care, and below, she shares how her own journey with major depressive disorder (MDD) has helped her truly connect with and understand the needs of both her patients and others.

About Kitty (aka jackdzone):
Kitty has a master’s degree in marriage, family and child therapy and has worked extensively with abused, neglected and abandoned children in foster care as a social worker. She joined PatientsLikeMe and was thrilled to find people with the same condition who truly understand what she’s going through. She lost her job as a result of her MDD, which was a difficult time for her. Kitty is very attuned to the barriers those with mental health conditions might face, and has great perspective about how to be precise with language to help people feel safe and not trigger any bad feelings. Kitty is passionate about research being conducted with the patient’s well-being at the forefront, and believes patient centeredness means talking with patients from the very beginning by conducting patient surveys and finding out what patients’ unmet needs are.

Kitty on patient centeredness:
“To me, it means that it’s all about the patient from start to finish. In the beginning, it’s talking with patients, conducting patient surveys and reading any written material that would be helpful in order to find out what patients are most wanting and needing and not getting. In healthcare, this would translate to a doctor engaging with a patient in a way that is especially helpful for the patient. This may require asking a question a certain way in order for the patient to answer truthfully and to feel that their doctor really cares about them as a person. (I was fortunate enough to have had one primary doctor like this for many years and it makes a huge difference!) It puts the focus on that particular patient at that moment and requires empathy and understanding (and not just going through the motions) in determining what is best for that patient.

In the area of research, the same is true. Research of this kind is done to improve the client’s physical and/or mental life in some way. Any research should be done with the patient’s well being at the forefront. Questions should be asked in a way that will lead the client to be very open about their experiences. The client should be fully informed regarding any research in which they participate and be asked at the end if there is anything that has not been covered that they have questions about. They should be informed of the results of the research afterwards and perhaps be allowed to give their thoughts about the findings.”

Kitty on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“A year ago, when I read that PatientsLikeMe was putting together a Team of Advisors, I didn’t hesitate to apply. I wanted to be part of something that had helped me a great deal during a part of my life when I was the most depressed and struggling. When I was eventually chosen to be on the team, I was and have continued to be very honored. I feel such a strong affiliation with PatientsLikeMe and want to be able to help others in anyway that I can. During this past year, I’ve been able to participate in helping to compose a patients’ rights handbook and be interviewed by a researcher regarding how patients view clinical trials. Being on the Team of Advisors has given me the chance to become an advocate for myself and others. It is something that means a lot to me and something that I enjoy doing–and I think it’s something I will continue to do in whatever capacity I can throughout my life.”

Kitty on helping others:
“From the very first day that I joined PatientsLikeMe several years ago, the website has meant a great deal to me. Most of the people in my life did not really understand what I was going through. At times, they thought I really could have done more, but that I was just being lazy. When you are suffering from MDD, this viewpoint from others only increases your depression. I didn’t know where to turn. What I found on PatientsLikeMe were others who were also suffering from MDD and were experiencing the same symptoms and challenges as myself. As I began posting on the site about what I was going through and how depressed I was feeling, I felt somewhat better just by being able to express myself and even more so when others with MDD began reaching out to me with advice and encouragement. I can really say that this made all the difference to me in the world.

After awhile, I made it a point to also reach out to encourage others. I noticed that some people seemed to be very depressed on a daily basis with very little hope and I felt I had to reach out to them in some way. I began responding to their posts. A lot of times I just said that I was sorry that they were feeling bad, as I didn’t know what else to say. I hoped that just this much would encourage them. I didn’t want to be overly upbeat if that wasn’t how they seemed to be feeling, because I felt this was a disservice to them. I felt that the more I could just be there for them right where they were and with how they were feeling the more I could be of help.”

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Sally Okun explains the new research collaboration with the FDA

Posted June 16th, 2015 by

Yesterday, we announced a new research collaboration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that will explore how patient-reported data can lead to new insights about drug safety. It’s the first time the FDA will analyze patient-generated data for pharmacovigilence (aka drug safety).

But we’re no strangers to drug safety. Check out some of the previous work the community has helped to drive:

To learn more about this new (and unprecedented) collaboration, we talked to our very own Sally Okun, Vice President of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety.

What will this collaboration do?
Patients’ lives and well-being often depend upon medical products approved and regulated by the FDA. But most of the information we see on safety labels comes from clinical trials, which aren’t typically representative of the actual populations of patients who will take the medication. Working with us, the FDA will be able to see the real-world impact of taking medications over time, which can help identify benefits and risks earlier. The FDA isn’t just talking about patient-centricity; they are partnering with us to work directly with patients, and give them a collective voice as part of the FDA’s surveillance system.

How does the FDA normally hear about side effects?
Right now the FDA uses a voluntary reporting system consisting of individual case safety reports, the majority of which are submitted by healthcare professionals and patients to drug product manufacturers, who then are required to report them to the FDA. Our data are different in that the information is generated by patients themselves, and provide real-time insights about what its like to use medical products over time, like tolerability of the drug and factors that may influence taking the drug as prescribed.

When did PatientsLikeMe’s start gathering information about side effects and adverse events?
We’ve actually been collecting information about patients’ experiences with treatments, including patient-attributed side effects, since we launched the website in 2006. In 2008 we took steps to formalize adverse event reporting by developing a customized version of the FDA’s MedWatch tool for use in a pilot project with our MS community. The pilot set us on a path to develop our future drug safety functionality. By 2009 we had created a fully integrated, standards-based drug safety platform, the first on social media. It enabled industry partners to meet their regulatory obligations.

What’s the future?
It’s pretty exciting! The patient experience can more deeply inform the way medications are regulated. And patient-reported data can ultimately have a greater impact on the way that drugs are developed. This collaboration can lead to all of that.

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PatientsLikeMe and the FDA Sign Research Collaboration Agreement

Posted June 15th, 2015 by

WASHINGTON D.C., June 15, 2015—PatientsLikeMe and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have signed a research collaboration agreement to determine how patient-reported data can give new insights into drug safety. Under the collaboration, PatientsLikeMe and the FDA will systematically explore the potential of patient-generated data to inform regulatory review activities related to risk assessment and risk management. The announcement was made at the start of the Drug Information Association’s (DIA) annual meeting in Washington D.C.

PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder and President Ben Heywood said the agreement is an unprecedented step toward enhancing post-market surveillance and informing regulatory science. “Most clinical trials only represent the experience of several hundred or at most several thousand patients, making it impossible to anticipate all the potential side effects of drugs in the real world. Patient-generated data give a more complete picture about a drug’s safety by providing a window into patients’ lives and healthcare experiences over time. We’re very encouraged by the FDA’s action to evaluate newer sources of data to help identify benefits and risks earlier.”

The cornerstone of the FDA’s post-approval drug safety surveillance is a spontaneous reporting system consisting of individual case safety reports. Reporting adverse events to the FDA is mandatory for drug product manufacturers but voluntary for healthcare professionals and patients. The majority of these individual case safety reports are submitted by healthcare professionals and patients to drug product manufacturers, who then have regulatory requirements to report them to the FDA. The PatientsLikeMe data are generated in a different context by patients themselves, and provide important real-time insights into the nuances inherent in patients’ experiences over time, including drug tolerance, adherence and quality of life.

PatientsLikeMe is the largest and most active patient network online, with 350,000 members reporting on their real-world experiences with more than 2,500 conditions. The company’s drug safety initiatives began in 2008 with a pilot program that allowed patients living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) to report adverse events directly to the FDA. One year later the company launched the first drug safety platform on social media, enabling industry partners to meet their regulatory obligations. In all, PatientsLikeMe has collected more than 110,000 adverse event reports on 1,000 different medications, data that the FDA will now be able to access and analyze as a supplement to traditional sources, including FAERS.

While this is the first time that PatientsLikeMe has formally worked with the FDA, the collaboration adds to a foundation the company has built as an active participant in the regulatory science process. PatientsLikeMe has worked with, provided counsel to and co-authored discussion papers with a range of government groups, including the Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as nonprofit organizations such as the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe® (www.patientslikeme.com) is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. With more than 350,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 60 peer-reviewed research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

About the FDA
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

Contact
Margot Carlson Delogne
PatientsLikeMe
mcdelogne@patientslikeme.com
(781) 492-1039


Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Letitia

Posted June 12th, 2015 by

You might recognize Letitia from her Patient Voice video and her PIPC guest blog, but did you know she’s also a member of the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors? Below, read what she had to say about living with epilepsy, her views on patient centeredness and all of her advocacy work.

About Letitia (aka Letitia81):
Letitia is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Florida and a National Certified Counselor specializing in mental health and marriage and family issues, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at a young age. Letitia consulted with doctors across different disciplines both nationally and internationally and did not find an effective treatment until she found out about epileptologists on PatientsLikeMe. Through consultations, she realized she was a good candidate for brain surgery and she underwent left temporal lobectomy August 16, 2012 and has been seizure free ever since. She successfully weaned herself off of Keppra this month under her doctor’s supervision.

Letitia is very passionate about giving back to others, and recently met a young epileptic girl and inspired her to undergo the same life changing surgery, and so far she’s met with great results. In addition to helping the young girl and her family, people contact her regularly from all over to consult about their or a loved one’s seizure condition and she’s always willing and delighted to help. Letitia is passionate about research and believes in the power of research to positively change the quality of life (mind, body and spirit), for those living with epilepsy and other chronic conditions.

Letitia on patient centeredness:
“It means that the treatment is individualized based on the patient’s (or research participant’s) unique condition/situation as well as their opinions regarding their health.”

Letitia on the Team of Advisors:
“Being a part of the team of advisors has been an invaluable experience! It has allowed me to work with other “rock star” patient advisors and PatientsLikeMe staff that are just as passionate as I am about changing health care, including research to be more patient-centered for all patients. This experience has also given me exposure that I did not imagine before to share my story, encourage, and inspire patients and caregivers. Additionally, I have been able to network with professionals from many disciplines about the value of the patients’ voice! I have heard from many patients and caregivers from different parts of the country and the world! They reached out to me with questions, for guidance, to thank me for sharing my story, and to share their stories with me. I am so humbled that they felt comfortable sharing their stories with me and looked to me as an “expert” for advice. I guess I should not be too surprised by this since I am not only a patient that can relate to their experience, but I am also a professional counselor. I have been blessed with the gift of showing empathy and compassion to others in my career. Finally, this experience, particularly working on the best practice guide for researchers fits nicely into my current professional endeavor of pursuing a Ph.D. in counselor education, with an emphasis on counseling and social change. Social change involves advocacy and creating innovative ways to improve humanity!”

Letitia on advocacy:
“I am very passionate about advocacy work! Advocacy has been a huge focal point in my role as a professional counselor. I am currently a clinical manager for a large mental health and substance abuse agency and I teach and mentor my staff about the importance of advocacy work. Advocacy is one of the many reasons I stay involved as a patient on the PatientsLikeMe website. Additionally, I have been able to partner with other organizations such as Partnership to Improve Patient Care (PIPC) and the US News & World Report to share my story with diverse audiences. Ultimately, these experiences have allowed me to help other patients and caregivers see the value of advocacy in patient-centered health care, and I am so grateful to be a part of this powerful movement!”

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Let’s talk about men’s health

Posted June 10th, 2015 by

On average, American men live sicker and die younger than American women. Men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death, and by the age of 100 women outnumber men eight to one1.

Sometimes men just don’t talk about their health problems. Or they might not go to the doctor or for their health screenings as often as women2. This month is National Men’s Health Month and it’s a time to raise awareness and encourage early detection and treatment of preventable disease among men and boys.

There are several ways to get involved and join in the conversation. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are a few ideas:

Join the Men’s Health Forum discussions
Men make up 29 percent of PatientsLikeMe – and 81 percent of these members are sharing about their conditions, tracking their symptoms and connecting with one another in the men’s health forum. If you’re interested in learning more, visit today.

Wear something blue
The Men’s Health Network (MHN) is encouraging everyone to wear blue and share their pictures with the #showusyourblue hashtag on social media.

Research the facts
Learn about Key Health Indicators, common men’s health conditions and leading causes of death on the MHN’s information center.

Check your resources
Here’s a great list of resources and things to do in June, courtesy of the MHN.

Listen to patient interviews
Several men have shared their experiences on the PatientsLikeMe blog – watch Bryan (IPF) and Ed (Parkinson’s disease) speak about their conditions, and listen to David Jurado’s podcast on life with PTS.

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1 Life Expectancy data is from CDC/NCHS, Health, United States, 2013
2 http://www.menshealthnetwork.org/library/menshealthfacts.pdf


Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Charles

Posted June 8th, 2015 by

We’ll be featuring three Team of Advisors introductions on the blog this month, and first up is Charles, a veteran Army Ranger who is also living with MS. Below, Charles shared about his military background, his thoughts on patient centeredness and how he’s found his second family in the Team of Advisors.

About Charles (aka CharlesD):
Charles has a diverse background. He served three years in the US Army 75th Ranger Regiment parachuting from the back of C-130 and C-141 aircraft. He built audio/video/computer systems for Bloomberg Business News. He worked as an application systems engineer in banking, as a computer engineer at the White House Executive Office of the President (EOP), and as a principal systems engineer for the US Navy Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) program. He is currently a contractor providing document imaging Subject Matter Expertise (SME) to the IRS. Charles was diagnosed with MS in July of 2013. MS runs in his family on his mother’s Irish side – he has one uncle and two male cousins with MS.

Charles on patient centeredness:
With experience in website design, Charles believes patient centeredness is a lot like user centeredness when designing a web site or a portal: “Information is organized according to the patient (or the user’s) view of the world. Questions that the patient most needs answered are listed front and center. The design is based on addressing the needs of the patients (users). Info is organized cleanly and logically with possible visual impairments, color perception problems, and cognitive issues of patients (users) always in mind. Research should focus on areas that will make the most difference to the patients. Ask them. Survey them. Get to know the ‘voice of the patient’ just like we look to capture the ‘voice of the customer’ in user-centric design.”

Charles’ military background:
“I joined the US Army in 1986. I did basic training and AIT at Fort Jackson, SC. After that I was off to 3 weeks of jump school at Fort Benning, GA. Then I went to the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) again at Benning. I was then assigned to HHC 75th Ranger Regiment.

I spent 3 years with the 75th training for a lot of pretty cool missions. We trained a lot for airfield seizures. Basically parachute onto a foreign airport or airfield, wipe out all resistance, take the tower, and make way for our big planes to land shortly after. We had early generation night vision goggles (NVGs). I drove a Hummer full of Rangers off the back tail ramp of a pitch black C-130 that was still rolling after touchdown while wearing NVGs. They were no help at all inside the plane since they only amplify existing light. If you are pitch black you are still blind. It is a wonder that I did not kill anyone or damage the C-130 that night.

So I joined up right after Grenada and I got out right before Panama. I never saw any combat. These days I volunteer my time with, and financially support, a veterans group called gallantfew (www.gallantfew.org), started by retired Ranger Major Karl Monger.”

Charles on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being on the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors has been a wonderful privilege and an excellent opportunity for me. As a person with a brain disease, it is not always comfortable talking with others about my illness. When the Team of Advisors first met up together in Boston, I knew that I had found my second family. I was together in a room where every single person there was struggling with one or more diseases, many of which can be fatal. In fact, one of our team members, Brian, died after serving for only a few months. It was such a warm and welcoming environment. All of us were able to speak openly with each other and with PatientsLikeMe staff and we were heard. Each story, no matter how painful, resonated with the whole group.

All of us in the first PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors shared many of the same goals. We are an extremely diverse group, but we all bonded immediately. What we want is to help conquer the diseases that have caused problems in all of our lives. We want to improve the relationship between researchers and the patient community. We want to help health care providers to better understand the patient perspective. And we want to make the world a better place for the next generation and for all generations to come. PatientsLikeMe embraces those goals and we embrace PatientsLikeMe. Together we are taking on all diseases.”

Charles on healthcare for veterans:
“As a veteran, health care issues are very important to me. I have seen so many veterans return home with wounds to body and mind. Many are shattered and have no idea what to do with themselves next. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, others to fast motorcycles or weapons. Suicide is rampant among newly returned veterans. The VA is woefully underfunded to take on the mission of supporting wounded and traumatized veterans. In the halls of Congress, the VA is seen as a liability, an unfunded mandate. Many veterans are denied the coverage they so desperately need. Many active duty service members are forced out with other than honorable discharges for suffering from PTSD or TBI. This limits the liability of the VA to support the veteran after separation. A good friend of mine who died recently put it this way. He said to me, ‘The military operates on the beer can theory of human resources. Picture a couple of good old boys out for a good time. They go down to the local liquor store and grab a nice cold six pack of beer. They go down to the lake, they each pop the top and they each start chugging a wonderful ice-cold beer. When they get through the first beer, they crush the can and throw it away. They grab another and another until the beers are all gone.’

I didn’t understand how this related to the military. He explained, ‘The brand new ice-cold beer is like a new recruit. The military sucks everything they can out of the person until all that is left is the empty shell. Then they toss that out and go grab another one just like the last one.’

We don’t deserve a health care system that treats returning veterans as empty shells. We can do better, but the current system is clear reflection of the value system at play in Congress. Funding for weapons programs are highly protected. Funding for the people who wielded those weapons systems is not. My answer may seem a bit cynical, but that is how I see the current state of affairs.”

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Migraine: More than just a headache

Posted June 5th, 2015 by

June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, but isn’t a migraine just a bad headache? Nope. People like Cindy McCain (wife of Senator John McCain) and 36 million Americans living with migraines will tell you otherwise. And this month, those 36 million are raising awareness and dispelling the stigma around migraines.

Headaches can have many causes – dehydration, loud noises, and even feelings of stress or anxiety can trigger pain behind our eyes and forehead. So what makes migraines different? They can still be triggered by things like intense light, noise, or certain foods, but migraines are inherited neurological disorders. They can last a long time, sometimes hours.1 Migraines can also be accompanied by auras (a visual or auditory perception that a migraine is about to strike).

The people living with migraines in the US are who inspired Cindy McCain to organize the 36 Million Migraine campaign. Listen to her share her experiences with migraines on The Today Show:

 

 

If you’ve ever experienced a migraine, you’re not alone – over 7,500 people are living with migraines on PatientsLikeMe. Many have shared what triggers their migraines and how they manage the pain – join the community to share your experiences, questions and answers with those who know what you’re going through.

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1 http://www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/about-migraine/


PatientsLikeMe usability study for mobile app

Posted June 3rd, 2015 by

Designing a new app is like designing a car. Your engineer and designer may have done a flawless job, but nothing matters until the person actually steps into the driver’s seat and test-drives the product. So when it came time for us to launch the first pass at our new mobile app, called PLM Connect, that’s exactly what we did. We invited a handful of members to come into the PatientsLikeMe office and test-drive the app.

Alex (ITalkToTheWind), a PatientsLikeMe community member, took some extra time to share about her experiences testing the app in an interview. One of the features, InstantMe, is a tool on the PatientsLikeMe website that’s a simple way to track and share how you’re doing. In this first pass of the app, and since she’s become a member in 2010, Alex has posted more than 1500 (!) InstantMe updates. Not only was she extremely helpful with her feedback, but she also brought in the artwork she’s created based on her InstantMe entries. Everyone on the PatientsLikeMe team was honored that Alex brought her art into the office for us to see, and we wanted to share it with the rest of the community, too. Here’s her story: 

Alex, what was it like doing the usability testing?
It was great to come down to the PatientsLikeMe headquarters to give my personal feedback on the first pass at PLM Connect.

I update my InstantMe every day, so I’ve been very eager for an application I can use while I am away from my computer so my charts can be as accurate as possible. Throughout testing the beta application, I got to dictate my thought process step by step with the engineering team. I communicated different ways to improve the application’s features, programming and design to make it more user-friendly and to have it operate more smoothly.

I also got to tell the team what my personal wants would be for a PatientsLikeMe application. Since I am an artist, it was great to be able to talk about how the design could compliment the different functions of the application. I mentioned how important it is to carry over the community and support aspect that is available at the main site over to the application. Overall, I was trying to think about the entire diversity of conditions in the community and how they could benefit using the application, and how to make it as easy to use as possible.

How do you use InstantMe on PatientsLikeMe?
I’ve been using InstantMe religiously to keep track of my moods for five years now, since I was diagnosed with my primary condition and began my treatment process. I basically see everything I’ve accumulated through my InstantMe as a diary of my life for the past 5 years.

It is very important to me to see how my treatments, symptoms, and life events all correlate with my moods to understand what is or isn’t currently working, and what has or hasn’t worked in the past, especially in a visual way. I’ve been able to keep track of absolutely everything I’ve tried to treat my conditions including medication, herbal supplements, vitamins, diets, different therapists and therapeutic approaches, exercise, lifestyle changes and meditation.

InstantMe also gives you the option to explain “Why” you are experiencing your mood, which has been crucial to me in reflecting on the moments that seemed so difficult at the time.

Another interesting part of that feature is reviewing how my automatic thoughts have changed through my treatment process, which is also really important for someone who suffers from mood swings like I do. I react differently now to difficult life events and can see how I’ve been better able cope with stress over the five years. It’s really nice to see how far I’ve come. 

Will you share a little about your InstantMe artwork?
My work is about the disconnect that occurs with one’s experiences and personal identity over time. I make paintings and drawings using my InstantMe mood logs, and other PatientsLikeMe charts by transferring them onto a physical material such as a wooden panel or paper.

I correlate the text from the InstantMe’s to remember why I was feeling good, bad or neutral and paint symbols to represent that time period, or draw the mood logs themselves into a painted environment or memory in which I was experiencing that mood.

It’s a lot about trying to gain a connection with these fleeting moments and my shifting identity over time and learning to accept them … the process of creating the artwork itself helps me cope with my condition.

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