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My husband was on a tele-call as I walked past in the background quiet, as if a mouse. He got off his call and asked “So?” I exclaimed “It’s positive!” He could hardly believe it, I acted so calm. I had already intuitively had a sense—I was pregnant. We were ecstatic, and my calm was masked as I felt anxious with a whirlwind of emotions circling in my mind.

For me, pregnancy  was a huge life change at a time of uncertainty in the global pandemic. I was 39 years old, otherwise healthy and knew the stats: miscarriage rates, high risk pregnancies, geriatric pregnancy! I suddenly felt as if I were being classified. At my first prenatal visit at a physician and midwife practice, I was given and quickly overwhelmed by a bunch of information and directed to see a specialist. It was all still unclear who would be my doctor, even for someone like myself who I consider a relatively educated woman with a career in healthcare.

I had previously seen a clinician, Dr. King in my pre-pregnancy visit and I knew I wanted her as my OB-GYN. I was delighted to find her still in the area. I sought her out and scheduled my next prenatal. Her reassuring voice and infectious down-to-earth laugh, quickly connected with me. She patiently answered my questions and had a way of educating—she met me where I was with open arms.

Navigating the patient care journey in the U.S. healthcare system is no easy task, because of the inequities, access, cost and systems issues among other enormous challenges discussed at lengths in healthcare circles. As a public health advocate, this is what we stand for in improvements across our healthcare communities.

Participatory medicine is all-inclusive

While we may traditionally think of the healthcare experience as taking place within a clinic/hospital setting, the factors that influence our health and healthcare include lifestyle and environment among others. As a yoga enthusiast and instructor, I liken my yoga practice as a teacher and practitioner to the active involvement of my own care journey. Yoga is an inward journey that not only teaches about movement, breath and meditation, it is an active practice of the way to the heart—through love.

Healthcare is an intricate weaving of the stakeholders of the system interacting with the patient at the center of care. Through the lens of the patient, one experiences what is this “patient experience”—what we can learn from and strive to improve. Throughout my pregnancy and postpartum, my active team members included both clinical and non-clinical individuals such as my OB-GYN, perinatologist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, physical therapist, doula, and nurses. Each member of my team was integral toward my healthy delivery and birth experience.

As a first time pregnancy, it was frightening to have two scares where I needed to be more closely monitored within the hospital setting. From a billing perspective, an isolated syncope episode is just that, a series of codes that may not give a lot of information. Rather, to paint my complete health picture, it was the entire care continuum that was involved in my compassionate care. There was my primary OB-GYN, Dr. King, who was made aware, a remarkable coordinated team approach involving working closely with the different physicians on call and later my ongoing communication with practitioners such as my acupuncturist to share my intimate care experiences, where my healing occurred.

Healthcare is a team sport

My vivid birth story was not just the profound day of delivery itself, rather a culmination of multiple players. As a first time mom, I sought out my doula, hypnobirthing and breastfeeding classes to support and educate me along the way. Pre-planning for a hospital delivery was a choice I made in concert with my OB-GYN office, taking into consideration my birth preferences and concerns, and with the medical advice of my practitioners.

Even on the day of delivery, I reflect back on my participatory care experience. Having to make health decisions on the spot while seeing the concern of my care team gaze intently at a fetal monitor as my infant’s heart rate dropped with each contraction and push was paralyzing. Participatory medicine is what happens in the space between thought, decision, and action. In the end, I was blessed with a miracle baby boy, thanks to all my conscious care partners and team.

My hope is that as we expand access, equity and continuously improve healthcare, we might all have the greatest shared patient experience as true patient partners in our collective journey. As patient partners, we are active participants in our own healthcare journey and cared for in meaningful ways that matter most deeply to each of us.

Tiffany Kuo, MPH, is a public health and integrative healthcare professional with broad industry experience in numerous healthcare settings, including clinical, nonprofit and healthcare technology.  She recently served at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, CancerLinQ, The Mindfulness Center, and with various yoga businesses in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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