Back in August, the Kidney Health Initiative (KHI), a partnership between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Society of Nephrology (ASN), held a workshop called “Understanding patients’ preferences: Stimulating medical device development in kidney disease.” But this was more than a workshop – it was an event centered around the idea of “Patients Included” – a movement started back in May to involve more patients on the planning committees, stages, and in the audiences of medical conferences.
Sally Okun, our Vice President of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety spoke at the event and notes how patient-focused the entire workshop was in that “nearly 100 people among the approximately 150 who gathered for the event were patients living with and managing kidney disease every day, many joined by their caregivers.”
“The patients were very open in the discussions and direct in their questions. Many talked about their experiences with hemodialysis and how difficult it is to live a normal life when one has to be at the dialysis center three days a week for many hours,” she says. “In contrast to the conventional treatment approach, the newer developments for hemodialysis at home were very interesting, and in general, patients felt more in control.”
She concludes, “The KHI did a remarkable job focusing this meeting on patients and their caregivers, and providing resources to cover travel expenses. They should be commended and looked to by others as an example of getting ‘Patients Included’ right.”
Why was it important for you to attend this workshop event?
S: It is important to me as a patient to have a voice in my care and treatment. It was particularly important to me to attend this workshop because I wanted to be a voice for the patient who has not yet arrived at the need for dialysis or transplant and to ask what we can do to prevent chronic kidney disease (CKD) from progressing if possible. I know that not all cases can be prevented, but there are some that can. In my situation, my CKD was caused by the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If the consequences of using these drugs for such a long period of time had been made clear to me and if I had been offered some alternative treatments I may have made different treatment choices.
L: I have always been strongly committed to advocating for myself and others, and being given the opportunity to participate and then bring back the information to others whose lives are impacted by CKD and/or end stage renal disease (ESRD) equips us with insight to better advocate for ourselves.
Is this the first event like this that you’ve attended?
S: Yes, this is the first time that I was offered the opportunity to have a voice in patient care. It certainly will not be the last.
L: I have attended National Kidney Foundation (NKF) meetings with other patients and also participated on NKF committees (Patient and Family Executive Committee).
How did you feel about the focus on patient-centricity at this event?
S: I was thrilled to know that someone cared about what patients have to say about their own care. I think that with the advent of the Internet and patients having more access to information that they are more involved in their own care. Patients know more and want to know more about what illnesses are affecting their bodies and they also want to know what they can do to prevent some of these conditions from happening in the first place.
L: The patient-centricity was one of the most valuable components of the meeting. I am one to be very involved in giving back, but I would guess that for many, their disease leaves them feeling isolated. For this population to meet others who are not only surviving but thriving is very important. My hope is that many participants were encouraged to not let their CKD/ESRD define them, but rather to use it as a vehicle for being empowered and encouraged to live each day to the fullest extent, not be left feeling like a victim to the disease.
Did you feel like they supported you and listened to you while you were there?
S: I absolutely felt like I was listened to at this workshop. I had an opportunity to talk to so many people on all different levels of health care. I had wonderful conversations with Paul Conway (AAKP), Mark Ohen (Gore), Denny Treu (NxStage), Sally Okun (PatientsLikeMe), Prabir Roy-Chaudhury, MD, (ASN) Frank Hurst, MD (FDA), Francesca Tentori, ME (ARCH), and F.P. Wieringa, PhD (DKF). We all had the shared topic of kidney disease to discuss but I was amazed at how many people I had other areas in common with. Paul Conway knew my new hometown of Waterville, Maine, and Denny Treu was familiar with my former home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I feel like my love of research and my desire to learn new things and to share my experiences made this conference a catalyst for me to not only offer my view but to be asked to participate in conversations that I would not be privy to otherwise. I felt like I was engaged in the process and made to feel that my opinion was valued.
L: Most definitely!
What stood out to you as an attendee?
S: What stood out to me the most was that these doctors and vendors really wanted to hear what the patients had to say. I never felt like someone was asking for my opinion just to be nice or listening just to be polite. They seemed fully involved in what we, the patients, were saying. Being heard, as a patient, is honestly such a rare thing that to have people in places that can make life-changing decisions about our care hear what we have to say, is amazing.
L: Hearing about research that is ongoing as well as new technologies was very empowering, and left me feeling very encouraged about options available to those of us who have reached ESRD.
What was the most interesting takeaway for you?
S: As a patient the most interesting takeaway was that what I think and what I say really does count. As a person who loves research and used to do surveys and metrics for a living, the most interesting takeaway was that taking the time to craft a meaningful survey for patients is important. Turning data (survey results) into action (making a difference for the patient) is key.
L: Hearing about research that is ongoing for new technologies and ways to treat ESRD was most exciting.
What was it like to be able to interact with other patients who were attending?
S: It always helps to know that you are not alone. Even though we all have our own individual paths and we all fall on different places on the CKD continuum, we all have so much in common in how we feel and how we need to be heard. We can laugh at things that other people just would not understand. Kidney disease is not funny, but there is always some humor to be found in any difficult situation and being with like-minded people is good for the soul. Every single patient in that room is a hero. We all have a lot on our plate but we mustered up the strength to get ourselves to that conference to not only help ourselves but to help all those who come along after us. I know I was completely energized by being around everyone and at the same time could feel the drain of the illness that I deal with every day. It was worth every bit of energy it took to be there in Baltimore and I feel incredibly grateful that I was offered the opportunity to attend the conference. I made sure to thank everyone who played a role in getting me there and also to thank the other patients for sharing their stories and their thoughts and ideas.
I have been in my new community, Waterville, Maine, for about 2 1/2 months now. Going to the KHI conference in Baltimore made me realize that I need to be involved in my new town. I found a group walk in the downtown area (Waterville Walks! hosted by Waterville Maine Street), I attended a public health meeting as a member of the community (Healthy Northern Kennebec), and I participated in a workshop down in Hallowell, Maine at the Harlow Gallery (Healing Through Art: Confronting Your Inner Critic). My goal is to find out as much as I can about the resources that are available in this area. I understand that input from members of the community really is important and that the people asking for the input want to hear what people have to say. I am not surprised that so few people attend these community events thinking that they will be boring or useless, but I am doing my part to let everyone I cross paths with know that there is a lot to do out there, that there are unlimited ways to get involved, and that if you keep looking and put in some effort the resources can be found. I am grateful that the KHI conference has opened so many doors for me.
L: I love the interaction with other patients, and the opportunity to both learn and encourage others. I think it was important for many patients to feel they both have a voice and that our collective voices were not only being heard, but welcomed.
Stay tuned for Part II of this blog when we chat about what kind of planning it took to make this event as patient-centric as possible with those who ran it. And don’t forget to visit the site to connect with Samantha-Anne, Laura, and the nearly 1,000 other PatientsLikeMe members living with chronic kidney disease.
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