23 posts tagged “patient advocacy”

Meet Jacquie from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 6th, 2017 by

Say hello to Jacquie (@Jacquie1961), another member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. We chatted with Jacquie recently about how she lives with her condition and what it meant to become part of this year’s Team of Advisors; “Joining the team is allowing me to…help others who are newly diagnosed or those who think they have something wrong with them.”

Jacquie also opened up about her passion for animals, especially her dog, Roman: “He’s precious, loving, beautiful and really has the personality of a human.”

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?

I would have to say I get the most joy out of being with my dog, he’s been the greatest addition to my life right before I was diagnosed. He’s precious, loving, beautiful and really has the personality of a “human.” Of course my new kitty is an added bonus of love and fun. All in all, I have a tremendous passion for animals.

What has it been like for you managing multiple conditions?

First off, I had Lung Cancer. Fast forward months, I have a new oncologist and stage 4 metastatic lung to colon cancer. I became the 13th documented case of such as it is highly rare. Every 3 months I have a maintenance plan of scans, blood work (that’s actually monthly) and colonoscopies as I have pre-cancerous polyps that must be removed before becoming cancer. The risk is too high, so that is my life with cancer. I chose this over a life of chemo. I have since my 20’s severe anxiety and panic disorder, my only maintenance on that is the highest dosage of Xanax 5x a day and pray I don’t get attacks. I have tried everything and there is no cure for anxiety like I have it, I would not wish a panic attack on my worst enemy. This is truly a disease that if you have never experienced it you would have no clue how horrible it is. Because of 14 months of intensive chemo my bones and joints have severe damage, especially my back. I go every 3-6 months, depending on the body part, for injections for the pain. THIS has really impacted my life. I can’t do the things I used to do, dance, hike, rake leaves, garden etc., because of the pain. My mornings begin with a good hour on my heating pad for my back just to be able to take a shower. This limits me in doing things on the spur of the moment and even getting to my shop on time. Every day I have to apply pain patches and take pain meds which I despise. But…such is my life, I deal with all of it, juggle all the bs and carry on. Top that off with coronary artery disease and stents, all due to the chemo. Never had heart issues. I won’t say this limits my life daily but it does long term now. I now have added regular cardiologist appointments, scans, tests, etc.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?

My personal conditions only have the obstacles I myself place on me. Society only needs to be aware that we are all different and we should never judge a person by how they look, talk, walk, or live. Under the shell of someone could be a person who suffers greatly and maybe that scowl on the person’s face isn’t because they are nasty, maybe it’s because they are in horrible pain. Maybe they just got some more bad news about an already bad condition.

How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?

I would tell them to think of their worst headache and multiply it by 10, that is real pain. Imagine being in your car and you are suddenly underwater and you can’t get out, you can’t breathe. That is anxiety. The feeling of being trapped and unable to get out the panic attack that ensues is like an out-of-body experience where so much adrenaline is pumped, you are exhausted when the attack is over but relieved you didn’t pass out or die like you certainly thought you would. Having cancer in the midst of this was just another fight for life big panic attack that didn’t go away.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?

First of all, the word “chronic” needs to be redefined. Most conditions are not chronic, they are in a maintenance phase or they are lifelong conditions. However, I would always advise a second opinion. Once diagnosed, try and learn everything you can about your condition. Join a group like PatientsLikeMe where you can interact with others suffering and learning to cope with the same or like condition. Coping mechanisms are generally best learned from those who have been and are in the same shoes as you. Reach out and surround yourself with a support system, and most of all cherish that best friend. You will need him or her.

How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?

It was very hard until I found PatientsLikeMe, then it became easy. There were so many and so many far worse than me I could immerse myself in helping them which in turn helped me to cope and deal with my own issues. Someone always had it worse than me, someone was fighting to live with their last breath, and some do not live and become another statistic.

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself with your (provider, caregiver, insurer, someone else).

After my first cancer diagnosis I had an Oncologist who did NOTHING for me for 5 months when I begged every visit for help and told him how sick I was. I changed doctors and found out that my cancer had already metastasized. Once I became strong enough I became completely in control of my medical care, I pick up all of my own scan results, tests, etc. I make lists of questions, I google everything and I follow up with all doctors. Many times I have already diagnosed myself before seeing a doctor and that includes the dentist and the eye doctor. In 2015 I knew my father was not well, and his complaints of pain went ignored by all doctors for several years. I went to my oncologist and told her something is wrong with him, please figure it out. He had stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma of the bone marrow. He is now in remission. How’s that for all these great doctors who told him he was just getting old?

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

Joining the team is allowing me to further my voice as a patient of several conditions. To help others who are newly diagnosed or those who think they have something wrong with them. To let them know they are not crazy, and not alone. I am also taking this opportunity to educate the doctors within my large medical circle that I am an example of the reason they became doctors. That my time is valuable, too. Sitting in your office and waiting for you for 5 hours is unacceptable. I have pain and it is an issue coming to see you. I am not just another number in your file cabinet.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

Mostly I have been on the support side of PatientsLikeMe and try to help others. I have not used it as a tool to help me. I already know what I have and how I cope. But I must say there are days my coping skills don’t work very well, conversing to another member that is down and hurting and lifting them up puts my issues back into perspective. I’m still breathing, I’m still here.

What is it like to be you?

Why I ask myself that question I don’t know, maybe I am trying to understand what it is like to be me, I used to know and have an easy answer: it was great being me. Being me now is not always so great, but I am working on making my life better again. I have my new shop that, after my hurdles of getting there in the A.M., is a fun and rewarding place to be. I struggle with issues I have with my brothers. Aren’t they supposed to care about me not just when I am labeled as “sick and dying” but always? Do I expect too much? I think when one goes through so much and continues to constantly have to fight to keep a balance but never gets the balance it’s easy to fall into this abyss of “why me,” so I do my best to stay above that hole. I don’t ask “why me,” because there are no answers. I’m simply a good, driven person who wants to be happy, to help others, to enjoy my days, have fun like I used to and travel freely like I used to. I have a lot of “used to’s” I want back, maybe I should just live with who I am now but I refuse to give up or give in. There are ways I will feel better and I will find them. I got dealt a lousy deck of cards so I have to reshuffle now and deal another deck and make the best of it.

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Meet Glenda from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 29th, 2016 by

 

Meet Glenda (gagafor2), a member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. Glenda is a wife, mother and grandmother who finds great joy in making others happy. She’s also living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

Recently, Glenda told us about coming to terms with the “unknown” in her future and coping with anxiety: “PatientsLikeMe became my lifeline to information and patients who knew what I wanted and needed to know.” Check out the rest of her story and learn how Glenda hopes to represent other members of the IPF community.

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?

I would have to say making others happy makes me smile. I love to give and do special things for others, it gives me great joy I get so excited when I can find that special gift or plan that special surprise for someone else. My family gives me the greatest joy of all. I have had a wild ride so far with my husband of 45 years and my children and grandchildren. We moved many times throughout the last forty years to different parts of the country, making so many incredible friends and have having such wonderful memories. Yes, I still print out some of my photos just to pass on to my children and granddaughters so they can also look at, hold, and remember all the great memories that will live on throughout time. I am a pretty sentimental person. Our little granddaughters six and nine are so much fun and they give me a reason to fight with all I have and to live my life the best I can.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?

My greatest obstacle with being diagnosed with a terminal illness is the unknown. Not knowing to me like being in a dark room trying to find my way around, just stumbling around seeking help. Most of my family and friends always tell me “you look so good.” Yes, I do look good, makeup, hair color, and clothes can paint a pretty picture. Inside is the emotional and physical picture they do not see, nor the frightening experience of the what ifs that can happen at any time. Now I try to look at the whole picture of a person and have great empathy with what is going on with them.

How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?

Living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a day by day experience. Sometimes when it is hard to breathe or get a good breath it is frightening and I need to calm myself and do my pursed lips breathing to get my center and not let the anxiety run away with me. I also have generalized anxiety. One of my biggest fears has always been not being able to breathe and yes here I am diagnosed with something that can throw me off the cliff big time

Most days are good and I go on taking it one day at a time, even knowing it is a progressive disease and could change at any time with an exacerbation. I have become germ phobic trying not to get an infection or virus to cause a decline. My husband and I own our own business so I still work, now on a reduced schedule. Fatigue is sometimes overwhelming and keeps me from getting together with friends and social events as I used to. Every three months I go for pulmonary function tests which give me great anxiety before I get to the hospital to do the test. I am so afraid each time I take them that my numbers will decline. I know I cannot do a cram study for pulmonary function tests, but I do tend to over think the whole procedure for fear of lower numbers. I do take one of two medications approved in 2014 that can slow the progression of IPF in some people. Right now, I receive help paying for the drug, ($96,000 a year) but next year I will go on Medicare so that gives me financial worry also. I have heard of patients not having insurance or being able to afford the cost of these drugs, which makes me angry and sad. Something needs to change for people who need these kinds of medications.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?

When I was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease I was not given much information or why I might have gotten it. I began to look on the internet to find out what I might have. I learned that IFP was the worst kind of interstitial lung disease with no cure and a life expectancy of 2-5 years.  Boy, did I have a huge panic attack, checking into the ER. I then had testing done to confirm what I had, and then getting a phone call at work telling me I had IPF. It was so traumatic to be told this over the phone with no explanation just to wait until my next appointment in 2 months.

How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?

PatientsLikeMe became my lifeline to information and patients who knew what I wanted and needed to know. This amazing site gave me information, advice, and hope. Please get all the information you can so you will know the right questions to ask your doctor. I have found through my own experiences in the health care system you need to be proactive and not reactive with your health and the information you need. Please go seek supports groups and places like PLM to speak with others who have already experienced what you are going through. Then pay it forward to someone else who is newly diagnosed. We all need each other. 

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself with your <provider, caregiver, insurer, someone else>.

A few years ago, I became very sick not able to function at all. I gave my symptoms to my physician over and over without him getting to the exact cause. This went on for a year. My doctor became impatient and annoyed with me, making me feel like a stubborn patient because I kept coming back not getting any better. I finally asked him “would you like me to see another doctor?” I don’t believe he had ever been asked that question before. I did change physicians and we finally got to the bottom of the problem. We only have one body and we are the only ones who can advocate for the best treatment we can get. I try to learn as much as I can before I visit a physician so I know the right procedures and questions to ask. I don’t like to think we are just numbers but sadly it can be that way. I have found that going in the hospital requires someone on your behalf to monitor everything being done and given to the patient.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

PatientsLikeMe gave me the hope and compassion I needed at a time I was sinking in despair. Just being diagnosed with a terminal illness is a lot to handle on your own. I immediately connected with other IPF patients who gave me sympathy but also hope. A dear friend I met sent me a book of scriptures she said she wanted to pay for and send. What an angel she has been. Then there are the friends who know so much I just can’t pick their brain enough. It is a 24/7 online support group when you need it. It has given me information to make wise choices about medication to choose, supplements to take, and ways to cope. They have helped me beyond words; I wish I could name them all but just too many. I now hope to carry the torch forward for those who are newly diagnosed to those who are further along the road we travel.

How can we make our health care work better for us?  

Tell everyone about PatientsLikeMe, how we can connect and share with other patients, put in our test results, and know how to talk to our doctors and providers while being more informed.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

The only thing I know is that I wanted to make people aware of the PatientsLikeMe website. I did not expect to be chosen. I am not eloquent at putting my thoughts in writing, nor the most informed patient. I’m just an average person who got diagnosed with a chronic illness who wants to let others know how much I rely on communicating and sharing information. I was shocked when I received the notice I was chosen.  It was only during my trip to meet my fellow advisors that it came to me why. I want patent health care to get better, patients to be more informed. I love having all the data in one place and available to share. I love being able to enter every lab test, pulmonary test and medication so all can see and compare to each other giving us the ability to make informed decisions. I value each person on the site and their willingness to share their experience, data, and all other aspects of their health care. I am an informed patient now able to have a conversation with my physician on a higher level of understanding because of PatientsLikeMe.

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Meet John from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 15th, 2016 by

Have you met John (JohnJFB126)? He’s another member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors.  John is a musician, husband and father of four. He’s also living with MS.

For John, living with an “invisible” disease is challenging, and he hopes for more compassion and understanding from others in the future. Here, John shares how he finds critical support in the PatientsLikeMe community: “It reinforces that I am not alone.”

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?

What gives me the greatest joy and puts a smile on my face is knowing that I helped someone.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?

The greatest obstacle living with this condition is its, oftentimes, invisibility. Especially when compared with other chronic and disabling conditions. Societal shifts need to occur resulting in more a compassionate or understanding of these challenges are a more concise, comprehensive overview of the disease and how it truly is idiosyncratic.

How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?

I have described this condition by comparing it to a frayed electrical cord with the inability to properly transmit the energy required to execute a function. Or, think of having MS as your computer’s hard drive sending a program execution but due to corrupt transmission lines/data paths, it needs to take additional time to map an alternate route to obtain the information and/or activate the desired program/effect.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?

One piece of advice I would offer to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition is: If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic disease, it’s chronic and not necessarily fatal. Learn as much about the condition and include at least one person in this learning to serve as a buddy and/or support.

How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?

It has been incredibly important to me to find others living with the condition and who may be able to relate to what I’m going through. Their insights, struggles and successes have proven to be invaluable; it reinforces that I am not alone.

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself with your provider, caregiver, insurer, or someone else.

I have often had to advocate for myself with my insurance providers; needing to articulate the need for coverage of a procedure or medication as those items were critical to my ongoing care and health stability.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

I see the opportunity to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors as the chance to learn, give, and make a difference in the lives of individuals around the globe!

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

The PatientsLikeMe community has been a source of reference, strength, and encouragement for me as I cope with the diagnosis given me.

If given the opportunity to participate in efforts to change something which would transform how the current healthcare system is implemented and designed, what would it be?

I would work collaboratively with government (legislators/representatives), pharmaceutical and insurance companies and the medical community to transform methods for the delivery of care to persons with chronic disease diagnoses and other long term health illnesses. The goal being to streamline, reduce the need for repeated/duplicative procedures, create a system that “speaks the same language” across all platforms, and delivers timely services to each patient (“tailor made” care).

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Patient Advocacy: An interview with artist and activist Regina Holliday

Posted November 22nd, 2016 by

Regina Holliday wears many hats. She’s an artist, activist, speaker and author, and she’s painted hundreds of patient stories on the backs of jackets in an ongoing art project called The Walking Gallery.

Through her art, Regina promotes better care, treatment and transparency in healthcare. She’s been an advocate of PatientsLikeMe for quite some time (two of her paintings hang in our office!), and shares our belief that patients and their providers should work together as a team.

Today, we’re sharing a recent interview from Regina Holliday’s Medical Advocacy Blog. Check out what she has to say about the role of a patient advocate, the importance of choice in healthcare and the impact art can have:

“It is very easy to push aside someone’s story, if that story is only the bullet point on a slide or the footnote in an academic article.  It is much harder to look away at the painting on someone’s back, screaming at you like so many wheals and welts.”

 

How would you define the role/responsibilities of a “patient” advocate?

The patient advocate can be defined in several ways.  Sometimes this is an official staff member in a facility.  They can operate as a patient navigator or customer service operative.  In the best scenario, their job is to help the patient understand the processes and options in care within the facility.  In the worst scenarios, the patient advocate operates as a tool of damage control to damper litigious action of distraught family members.

Sometimes the patient and family hire a patient advocate from a registry like the AdvoConnection. In this case the advocate may be a nurse, a doctor, or a trained and experienced caregiver who helps the patient while hospitalized or at home. They obtain medical records, ask questions, keep notes, help patients make their own difficult medical decisions, and review and negotiate medical bills.

Often the patient advocate is a close friend or family member who is not paid for their service. This advocate provides many of the same services as a paid advocate, but often is learning on the job. Occasionally they have a background in medicine, and use that knowledge to great success helping the patient ask the right questions and get appropriate care at the correct time.

Finally, there are patient advocates focused on policy.  I am often classified among this category, although I prefer the term patient activist.  A patient advocate focused on policy attends local, regional, state, and federal meetings to provide a patient perspective in policy decisions.

*(This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive definition of a patient advocate. Just how I define it in response to this question.  There are several other resources out there to learn more, like this one.)

** (Additional edits were made on 10-5-16 to clarify the responsibilities of patient advocates in relation to the AdvoConnection.)

You do a number of these sorts of speaking engagements and presentations around the country. Are there some unifying themes — clear trends — you see, common ideas that many people share about their worries or attitudes toward health care? Patient safety? Patient advocacy?

I have been attending medical conferences and public meetings for the past seven years. In that time I have watched HITECH legislation morph and change.  Patient access to data at stage one of Meaningful Use had budding teeth and at stage two it got poor fitting dentures.  I have watched the ACA become the law of the land, only to see constant steps to repeal it.

I watched the concept of patient engagement grow from a demand in small healthcare meetings, to a hashtag on twitter  (#patientsincluded), to trend of conferences inviting patient speakers.  I hoped that the next step was true partnership in decision-making and design.  Sadly, of late I have often heard that “patient engagement” was out of fashion.  We are now onto MIPS and MACRA and massive ACO’s.

I have watched patient safety advocates work for years with very little attention paid to their cause. I was happy to see Value Based Care begin to role out, as it addressed so many concerns of these advocates.  I am saddened to hear how many attendees at conferences expound on their love for fee for service.   Or twist the intended purpose of reducing readmissions, by leaving patients in hallway for days to be “observed,” but not admitted after complications.

The most apparent trend of the past seven years is that there are powerful lobbyists in this industry that will do anything to keep the status quo alive and well in healthcare.  There are also amazing individuals, often on Twitter, (check out #hcldr), that will not stop fighting for the patient voice and the positive disruption that comes when data silos are leveled and technology is used appropriately.

Will patients ever be like consumers of other products? Outside of elective procedures or choosing a birthing place/option, how much real consumer choices do patients have in their health care? How would you like to see those avenues expanded or re-routed?

I hate the word “consumer” when applied to healthcare; it assumes we take and never give.  Partnership in care requires two-way communication.   Care is always about choice.  When we embrace price transparency, a patient can decide which facility has the most affordable MRI procedure.  When we have medical record data transparency coupled with a clinical trials database, a cancer patient can decide the best personal path for their care.  Which may include a hospice path, if that is their choice.

We have a choice right now.  The difference in healthcare is that we have to fight for that choice, whereas in retail it is expected that customer will decide which items to buy rather than the shopkeep.

Regina Holliday during a visit to PatientsLikeMe in September 2016

How would you like to see health care systems and hospitals–particularly public and teaching systems– involve patients or their advocates in meaningful aspects of care best practices, policy making and priority-setting?

Patients, caregivers, and patient advocates need to be present in meetings throughout the facility.  For far too long we have been forced into the role of lobby designers.  We ask that you invite us to take part and provide appropriate recompense for our time.  Or schedule the meeting after the workday is done at the facility.  That would be fine.  Then everyone at the table can be the unpaid volunteer that patients and family caregivers are so often asked to be.

You might want to make sure we can have those meetings next to a playroom though, so our children can play together while we work together to create new policy. Because whether you are a patient or a provider, childcare is expensive.

How would you describe your painting style and approach?

My art looks like the work of the children’s book illustrator Garth Williams and the activist painter Diego Rivera fused.  As a few people have told me over the years,  “Your work is often sweet and disturbing at the same time.”

Describe the healing benefits and/or the impact that making art that tells stories about health care can have on patients, survivors, care providers?

As far as a healing benefit, the art process is a type of meditation and that can help soothe the soul.  It is a very nice feeling to be in the zone and at one with the cosmos.  But the creation of art could feel like a nail ramming through my hand, and I would still create.  I use art as a tool and the goal is to impact others.

It is very easy to push aside someone’s story, if that story is only the bullet point on a slide or the footnote in an academic article.  It is much harder to look away at the painting on someone’s back, screaming at you like so many wheals and welts.  To know this image is someone’s story. To look at the painted eyes that look into yours and seem say, “I died, and it is all for naught if you do not act.”

Are you alright? by Regina Holliday

Of all the art you’ve made–your Walking Gallery, the murals — can you choose one piece and describe it and explain why it’s a piece that you especially want to share?

My favorite piece is “Are you alright?”  In that painting, I captured my late husband Fred. He stares at me from that painting like he is still with me.  Still alive on pigment covered canvas.  Still urging me to help him, a patient.

And every day I do exactly that.

 

 

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#ChatActChange: empowered to chat, act and make change – together

Posted November 17th, 2015 by

On October 28, Sally Okun, our Vice President for Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety, participated in a Twitter chat – using the hashtag #ChatActChange – aimed at empowering people living with chronic conditions to advocate for policy change. Hosted by Diabetes Social Media Advocacy (DSMA), other chat participants included policy expert Susan Dentzer, Diabetes Hands Foundation and Novo Nordisk.

The chat generated some great conversation about what it means to be an empowered patient. 186 people joined the discussion, including patients, diabetes influencers and policy experts. 2015-2016 Team of Advisors member Christel, who is living with type 1 diabetes, took part in the chat, as did the American Diabetes Association.   

More than 500 users were reached with the #ChatActChange hashtag, and there were more than 1,154 tweets during the one-hour Twitter chat.

To check out a complete summary of the chat, take a look at this Storify. You can also contribute to the ongoing conversation on Twitter using #ChatActChange.

Let’s be empowered to chat, act and make change – together.

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Recognizing the Rare Disease Community’s Champions of Hope

Posted October 9th, 2012 by

PatientsLikeMe Is Proud to Be Partnered with the Global Genes / RARE Disease Project

Did you know that 1 in 10 people worldwide have rare and genetic conditions?

PatientsLikeMe was a proud sponsor of the 1st Annual Tribute to Champions of Hope, organized by our partner the Global Genes / RARE Project. Held on September 27th in Newport Beach, CA, the gala recognized outstanding individuals who are working to affect change in the rare and genetic disease community.  All proceeds from the event – which attracted celebrities, medical researchers, pharmaceutical executives and even Olympic champions – go to benefit programs for patients and advocates.

PatientsLikeMe

In attendance from PatientsLikeMe were Ben Heywood, Arianne Graham and Deborah Volpe, who got to hear inspirational stories of the work these champions of hope are doing.  Highlights included the Biotechnology Award given to Charles Dunlop of Ambry Genetics and the Mauli Ola Foundation, which organizes therapeutic surf experiences for kids with cystic fibrosis, and a preview of the documentary Here. Us. Now., which chronicles a family with twin daughters diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C, a rare, incurable and fatal genetic disease.  Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Henri Termeer, the former President and CEO of Genyzme, aptly summed up all those who received awards as “people that have a sense that if they focus, they can make a difference.”  (Click here to read about all eight Champion of Hope honorees.)

Even the Dessert Made You Think About Your DNA and the Impact of Genetics at the 1st Annual Tribute to Champions of Hope Gala

After uplifting musical performances and talks by celebrity presenters Jason George (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Nestor Serrano (Act of Valor), the night ended with a heart-stopping, impromptu rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” performed by several rising singer-songwriters, including Chris Mann and Katrina Parker from the “The Voice,”  Elliott Yamin from the fifth season of “American Idol” and Gracie Van Brunt, a young girl battling a rare genetic disease called Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome who performed her own original song earlier in the evening.

Chris Mann, Gracie Van Brunt, Katrina Parker and Elliot Yamin (Left to Right) Performing at the Tribute to Champions of Hope

The gala was followed the next day by the 2012 Patient Advocacy Summit, a forum where patient advocates could discuss issues that directly affect them, from resources to policy. PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder and President Ben Heywood was featured on the Innovative Technologies and Platforms panel, sharing the stage with Dr. David Eckstein of the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Discussing the topic of “Accessing the Science,” they each gave an overview of how patient registries and clinical trials are promoting change and advancing medical research.

As a prime example, PatientsLikeMe joined forces with the Global Genes / RARE Project last year to create the RARE Open Registry Project, a resource for patients and families fighting rare and genetic diseases.  What makes it different from other registries is every time you enter data into the system, you receive information back showing how your data compares to others fighting similar diseases or taking similar therapies.  If your family is impacted by a rare or genetic disease, we invite you to join the registry today


How Social Media Is Changing Research (Part II): A Guest Post by MS Clinical Trial Participant and Blogger Jeri Burtchell

Posted September 13th, 2012 by

Today’s guest post is written by PatientsLikeMe member Jeri Burtchell (TickledPink), who has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for 13 years.  A tie dye apparel store owner and mother of two, she writes a blog entitled “Gilenya and Me:  My Story of Being an MS Patient, a Hypochondriac and a Guinea Pig.”  Her patient advocacy and social media presence led to her being invited to speak the Disruptive Innovations conference taking place in Boston this week.

Read Part I of Jeri’s guest post first!

MS Patient, Blogger and Activist Jeri Burtchell (TickledPink at PatientsLikeMe)

Because blogging a clinical trial from start to finish was unheard of, I attracted the interest of not only patients, but those in charge of clinical trials. They are interested in the impact of social media on clinical trials, and how they can utilize it to their benefit. Sites such as personal blogs, FacebookTwitter, and PatientsLikeMe are here to stay and people naturally want to share information.

I got a direct message on Twitter from Craig Lipset, who is Head of Clinical Innovation, Worldwide Research & Development for Pfizer. Social media brought us together to have a conversation about research that never could have taken place before the Internet. Everyone is more connected and approachable now. Naturally, I blogged about it.

But that was just beginning.  Tomorrow, September 14th, at 9:45 a.m. , I will be speaking along with Craig at the Disruptive Innovations conference, where the leaders in pharmaceutical research will be gathering to share ideas and come up with innovative ways of conducting clinical trials that take the “ePatient” into consideration. The 30-minute segment is entitled “Patient Leaders as Key Stakeholders in Clinical Trials,” and I will be there to represent – and put a human face to – clinical trial patients everywhere.

Knowing this is a chance of a lifetime for a trial patient to have the researchers as their audience, I wanted to reach out to those who have participated in past or current trials. My question to them is: “If you could ask or tell researchers just one thing about your own experience as a trial patient, what would that be?”

I plan to attend this conference and speak on behalf of all patients and put a face to the humans behind the data. I want to show them that we are connected now more than ever by social media. Researchers need to harness that power to their benefit. Soon they may use it to recruit and retain trial participants. I would like to see them provide a monitored gathering place for these trial patients to reduce the spread of misinformation as patients share data.

How Many of the 35,000+ Clinical Trials Currently Recruiting Do You Qualify for?  Use PatientsLikeMe's Clinical Trials Search Tool to Find Out!

To people who are considering a trial I recommend using tools like PatientsLikeMe and ClinicalTrials.gov to stay informed about ongoing research and find a doctor willing to support your interest in participating. Remember that not every trial will culminate in a drug that wins FDA approval. By joining a clinical trial you will be taking risks, but you may also be reaping benefits long before the general public will have access to the drug. Never forget that you are a pioneer and by entering a trial you are giving the greatest gift possible. Without volunteers we would have no medical advancements.

I hope that researchers never forget the impact they are having on the lives of people everywhere. They aren’t just going to work every day; they are the makers of miracles. Often patients are joining these trials as a last resort. The work of researchers gives us all promise for a brighter future.

I hope that patients everywhere will take one clear message away from this: NEVER GIVE UP! It would have been so easy that day to end it all. I was depressed and certain my life could get nothing but worse. But, by choosing to fight, I have changed my life forever and doors continue to open for me. By reaching out through social media I know I am not alone. You never know what tomorrow may bring, so don’t give up on today!

Editor’s Note:  Jeri isn’t the only PatientsLikeMe member blogging about her experience in a clinical trial.  See our interview with PGen study participant PF Anderson for another patient’s chronicle!


The Importance of Open Access: An Interview with Patient Advocate Graham Steel

Posted July 9th, 2012 by

A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Graham Steel is a longtime “Guest Researcher Member” of PatientsLikeMe.  Following the death of his brother Richard at the age of 33 from a rare condition known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), Graham became involved in patient advocacy work, and most recently, in lobbying for open access to published scientific research.  Find out how this active blogger and Tweeter developed a passion for data sharing in our interview below.

Patient Advocate and Open Access Supporter Graham Steel

1.  Tell us how you first got involved in patient advocacy work.

As per my PatientsLikeMe profile, this started in 2001. Two years after the loss of my only sibling to vCJD, I was approached by a UK organization called the Human BSE Foundation to act as their Vice-Chair. Quite a daunting task for a 33-year-old!! I was involved in that capacity until 2005. Over the years, my interests in science and information sharing to this day continue to diversify.

I’m a great believer in complete openness and transparency as anyone who knows me in real life or via the Internet knows. One of my key assets seems to be “connecting people,” something that I started doing at the age of four. I enjoy making new connections and this is made so much easier with the advent of the web.

2.  You’ve been a member of PatientsLikeMe since 2007.  What key changes have you seen the site go through in that time?

I am not 100% sure where I first found out about PatientsLikeMe but it was most probably via the main ALS TDI Forum. I’m not a “regular” PatientsLikeMe forum poster with only 197 posts since February 2007. Some key changes that spring to mind: the addition of a PatientsLikeMe blog was a great development. A couple of years ago, a “Share This” button was added to the blog making it much, much easier to share content via social networking sites, etc.

The PatientsLikeMe platform itself has expanded in many ways since 2007. At that time, if I recall correctly, ALS/MND was the only disease covered. Now, that has increased to >1,200 conditions, so that alone is a major development. New features get rolled out on a regular basis and they are accompanied with good and clear explanations. It’s also much easier to ‘drill down’ to/for specific content, and the site is generally simpler to navigate than back in 2007, IMHO.

The Logo for the Open Access Movement

3.  You have recently campaigned for open access publishing. Why is this important to patients?

Yes, as of late 2006, I stumbled upon my first Open Access (OA) Manuscript, as it happened via Public Library of Science Pathogens. Up until that point, I had assumed that ALL Scientific, Technical & Medical (STM) content was locked up behind paywalls. As such, it was very enlightening to discover an alternative to traditional publishing. As matters stand though, only ~15% of Peer Reviewed STM Manuscripts are OA, and subscription-based publishing is still “the norm.” The reason that I became part of the OA Community was to use my networking skills to make more people aware of and involved in OA. OA itself however is just one cog (but a significant one) in the wheel of Open Science!!

“Why is OA important to patients?” Where does one start?! One of the best recent responses to that question comes from PatientsLikeMe’s very own Dr. Paul Wicks with his guest post over at the Public Library of Science Blogs dated June 14th, 2012, and entitled “Open Access Is Not For Scientists. It’s For Patients.”

Two key sections of that post that stood out for myself most were:

“In the past six years, we’ve found that more and more patients are trying to access research studies written about them, including studies where they were participants. In addition, they are increasingly capable of understanding them. Yet closed access is locking them out of better understanding their conditions and their choices.”

And…

“As a society, we need to recognize that our understanding of disease doesn’t belong to science. It belongs to the patients (who are also usually our funders, by the way), and we should exist only to serve them.”

4.  What do you see as being critical for the future of patient advocacy?

The Internet, Open Data and The Semantic Web. In terms of the sharing of data from patients, PatientsLikeMe was the first platform (that I am aware of) that made it easy for patients to share their data online with others. Whilst this data is “open,” it is open to the PatientsLikeMe community (and selected others) but not open at large. As stated in June this year by Sir Paul Nurse, “the President of the Royal Society said there was a need to put safeguards in place to protect confidentiality.” Sir Paul said that in reality no data was “totally secure” and that doctors already relied on personal information for treatment. “If you want a complete guarantee of privacy you would have to diagnose and treat yourself,” he said. (Also, see the recent “Science as an open enterprise” report by The Royal Society).

John Wilbanks Speaking at TED Global.  Photo Credit:  James Duncan Davidson.

In terms of the semantic web and link data, entities such as http://linkeddata.org/ and http://www.linkeddatatools.com/ have a lot of potential in terms of what we can do in a linked up world. Also in June, in his talk at TED Global entitled “Unreasonable People Unite,” John Wilbanks made a number of interesting points. From the TED Blog:

“Wilbanks’ proposal is a medical commons, a way for people to gather this medical data and share it freely. People are neurotic about privacy and keeping control of their data. ‘Some of us like to share as control.’ And, he believes we live in an age where people agree with him. He mentions a study run at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. ‘It’s not the most science-positive state in America,’ he says. ‘Only 5% wanted out. People like to share if given the opportunity and choice.’ And not using this data to understand health issues through mathematical analysis ‘is like having a giant set of power tools but leaving them not plugged in while using hand saws.’”


Harnessing New Media for Patient Advocacy (Part II)

Posted December 9th, 2009 by

A few weeks ago, I was invited to present on behalf of PatientsLikeMe at the Arthritis Foundation workshop held in Newport, RI.  The presentation was on how to “harness new media for patient advocacy” – the same as what I presented at a workshop for non-profits in northern New England in August.  This time the audience included non-profits in the southern half of New England.  Among those in attendance were representatives from organizations that mean a lot to us, and our patient communities, including regional branches of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, CFIDS & FM Association, and the Epilepsy Foundation.

af-ri-kennedy-pejpg

One of the highlights for attendees was an impassioned keynote speech by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (pictured above with me and my wife Emma) who advocated the use of the web to support mass organization of patients with serious and chronic illnesses to accelerate research and improve standards of care. We couldn’t agree more.  It’s exciting and validating to know influential decision-makers are recognizing the potential of communities like PatientsLikeMe.

PatientsLikeMe member pwicks