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QuindlenAny of us would probably have paid to be at the gathering of over 1000 medical school deans, faculty and residents at last week’s American Association of Medical College’s (AAMC) meeting to hear Anna Quindlen deliver her speech, Healthcare in an Age of Information: How Doctors, Nurses and Consumers Can Make One Another Better.  [Her speech is available until 12/3/2013. Not sure about access after that.]

Quindlen, a Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author, gave the Jordan J. Cohen Humanism in Medicine Thought Leader Session at the AAMC annual meeting, sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. According the this foundation, these lectures “feature prominent speakers on topics related to humanism and medicine”.

Every participatory medicine advocate should read it and put it in their Important Documents for All of Time. Her powerful words and stories got to me, and I wasn’t even there. I would liked to have seen the faces of everyone in that room. Were they listening, really listening, to hear what she was trying to say (her primary message)? Did they recognize the distinction between how simple her message was, and the magnitude of its impact? Did they understand that health care is just another part of society – like journalism – that must embrace social change or implode?

I can’t do justice by summarizing her speech, but offer some of her comments to provide a glimpse of their import:

As she shares her story of two surgeries with very different experiences, she implores clinicians and the healthcare team to answer the question,

“Do you know anything about me?”

When they go about their work and don’t seem to care or to notice who she is and what she wants, she describes a sense of feeling like they’ve

“..lost their mind, or lost their way”.

Quindlen gives us great personal insights talking about her father’s tragic injury. The professionals caring for him and the family were fully attuned to their needs, offering high-touch, meaningful care. They listened, they noticed, they asked and listened again.

To the meeting audience, she offered elegant recommendations:

  • try to be present in the moment
  • acknowledge uncertainty
  • practice empathy
  • try to be kind

She also paints a parallel between medicine and journalism. In news, changes in  consumer information seeking created greater sharing and dissemination. There’s been a shift of power in who holds information. She sees the surge in quick clinics and DIY care as responses to changing consumer/patient needs. She believes healthcare needs to use the same digital tools to shift the power and provide services that are wanted.

Thank you, Anna Quindlen, for a landmark essay about participatory medicine.



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