Humanism in Healthcare, Richard Levin, MD

"We are extremely interested in moving the power curve from a patriarchal classical circumstance in which doctors give orders & provide directions to patients to one in which the scientifically excellent care is developed together collaboratively". 

Dr. Richard Levin, is the President & C.E.O. of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a position he’s held since 2012.


Discussing Patient experience & humanism in medicine.

The relationship between doctors and patients has been existing and catalogued in the west for about 2,500 years and what is most important about it is the establishment of a human connection. The opportunity for the patient and doctor to be as close to one another as possible with trust, a sense of safety, a sense of the awesome responsibility that a doctor has to take care of a patient. Modern humanism and The Gold Foundation has been working on this problem for the last thirty years.
This is our 30th anniversary. The problem is more complex now because systems of care exist now where none existed previously. What do I mean? A system of care can identify a best practice which will involve the creation of a workflow; a series of work flows to manage an acute illness. Let's say that best practice was developed for the general population not for an individual and while compassion, integrity, empathy, responsibility, respect, resilience are all important attributes of someone who's practicing health care with humanism, humanism requires something more, something beyond patient centered care; A co-production of health. If there is a north star guiding the foundation's work right now, it's the recognition that we have become the champions of the human connection in health care over these 30 years.
We are extremely interested in moving the power curve from a patriarchal classical circumstance in which doctors give orders, provide directions to patients to one in which the scientifically excellent care is developed together collaboratively. A Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to the woman who originally came up with this notion that the best services will be co-produced by the receiver and the provider, not just the uni-directional in nature. Therefore, we are now going forward trying to make certain that in every health care encounter between a clinician and a patient we make sure that there is enough time, enough trust in the human connections so that the health care to be provided can be a collaborative decision of doctor and patient.

Co-Production of Health care

I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about; At the annual Jordan Cohen humanism lecture given at the annual meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges last November, the talk was delivered by Don Berwick. The co-founder of the Institute for Health Care Improvement and for a while President Obama as director of CMS responsible for the development of Medicare and Medicaid services throughout the country. He has been a leader in the reform movement in health care. He suggested that the things that patients could be taught to do themselves so that they had a sense of greater autonomy in caring for themselves and dealing with an illness were much greater then we currently give patients the capability of understanding.
He showed several videos in a research context of a young man who had a genetic disorder that required a feeding with a nasogastric tube every night of his life while he slept. This young patient was taught to insert the nasogastric tube through the nose into the stomach by himself and he mastered it very easily. He then set up the infusion of the nutrients solution and took care of himself in that fashion.
Then he realized that one of the things that about illness that was really bothering the other pediatric patients he dealt with in the office when he saw them was this lack of autonomy, this lack of self-assurance capacity. He made a video to teach everyone how to do that, and it's very popular as it as an example of what the coproduction of health is actually about.
Things that the health care system provides but things as well including education in which the patient and family bring to the encounter critical elements that must be incorporated into their care plan. This is what we imagine will be the optimal patient experience in the mid-21st century and we are working with like minded partners across the country to try and make this a reality. When Dr. Berwick showed the video of this, there were gasps in an otherwise very sophisticated audience.
Chronic hemodialysis is extremely complicated and potentially dangerous. It requires making contact with an indwelling artery and vein with a catheter. Making certain that the site is sterile, making certain that the dialysis proceeds without to arrangements in the salt content of blood. It is quite complicated, but nothing beyond the sort of daily activities that any human might actually do. In a small study a number of people that have been taught to give themselves hemodialysis at home with the machinery necessary and all of the elements that make it safe for a given patient to do that. The sense of self actuation that allows a patient who is dealing with a chronic and serious illness, the failure of a major of working is astonishing and that's what the video revealed.
From the young child delivering nightly nasogastric nutrition to an older patient with renal failure kidney failure on chronic hemodialysis it is possible to involve the willing patient and family in entirely higher level of care and decision making than we have been used to in the past. Shifting that power curve from doctor, nurse, health system to more equality and collaboration with the patient and family we think it is a higher order of patient centric care.

Equipping Physicians for the Future of Medicine

Medicine has developed like any field over a very long period of time. There are few organizations, few fields that have survived 1,000 years of medicine and physicians have survived for 2,500 in the West if we mark the beginning with Hippocrates. For most of that time the only tool available to us was the surgical knife. We didn't have a drug of any variety that were in fact proven to be of value in the treatment of anything.
Penicillin became widely available in the 1940’s after being released first in 1928. And everything in the armamentarium, the CAT scans, the M.R.I. microsurgery, the ability to do robotic surgery, knowing about the anatomy of an internal problem but without cutting, all of that has happened in a very short period of time since the 1970. Physicians are trying to catch up to the changes that have occurred in technology all of which promised to return to them more time with the patient. That hasn't worked out as planned. The electronic health record unfortunately while developing rapidly is still a halfway technology. Most primary care physicians indicated in surveys that they spend two hours typing after seeing patients for every hour that they spend with patients in the hospital.
The annual survey by Johns Hopkins of a residence life indicates that probably 60% of their time is spent typing and those electronic health records at the moment are real time continuous wallets of practice issues, not the standard narrative that describes to anyone who wants to read it, including the patient and family, what the nature of the illness and the lives that they have led are actually like.

Barriers to Humanism in Medicine

We have extraordinary barriers, new ones of a disruptive technological age that have dramatically modified or what the experience of being ill what the experience of trying to remain healthy is actually like. We have the deep belief by most practitioners that molecular biology and the genomic age will indeed provide cures for most of the chronic illnesses that we encounter. That was a belief that began back at the beginning of this century and we now know that it's going to take years before those cures are available.
The notion that the cures and technology will take the place of the human connection is wrong. We need both and the touchstone for The Gold Foundation is scientifically excellent compassionate and collaborative care in every health care encounter. If we can reach that we truly will have an optimal health care system and the patient experience will be the best that it can be.
Medical education changed dramatically in the United States with the publication of the Flexner Report in about 1910. Abraham Flexner was an educator and was hired by the Carnegie Foundation to write a report about what medical education was like in North America. He spent a couple of years and visited most of the medical schools in Canada and the United States and published a report that showed that most medical schools were not up to the chore of producing doctors.
They were apprenticeships without a scientific method, the science underlying developing medicine was not emphasized or provided in this context. A better example of what medical education could be like were discovered at Hopkins University of Pennsylvania and Harvard using those as a model he proposed the system of medical education that we have in place now which is two years of deep inquiry into the sciences underlying the practice of medicine.
This was the method used in Europe in late 1880’s which is there are induced to revolution. We switch from wearing black coats to white coats, to identify the fact that we were practicing a new kind of science. The second two years of medical school were designed to be done in a teaching hospital. The requirement that he wrote was that those teaching hospitals have the same ethos, the same interests as universities that is education continued education of doctors.
That was the standard and remains the standard today and it has resulted in a kind of wonderful meritocracy which admits students based on their apparent capacities but does not take into account the E.Q. the emotional quotient of intelligence and does not take into account the inherent capacity of any applicant to communicate and communicate deeply with the patient in the model that we have discussed in the co-production of health.
The barriers to getting to optimal in terms of patient experience include everything from the selection process for medical students to the experience within medical school to the experience of becoming a doctor as a resident then and a young practitioner in which every element has been optimized not for the interaction with the patient, not to optimize the patient experience but to provide quality which is defined by efficiency and it's not enough.
We can do better and by taking a look at the epidemic of burnout of physicians and nurses because the systems are making administrators requirements on their time that should not be there all. Improving the health of the health care workforce and making that deep connection between health provider and patient in the coproduction of health. Those are the barriers that need to be overcome and it will take us probably another 25 years to get there. We've got a long way in defining what patient centered care looks like and I've suggested today that there's another step which is called the coproduction of health.
There are organizations in many countries that are approaching this problem logically and with a great deal of attention to what the experience of the patient is actually like. An organization known as PlaneTree which is headquartered in Connecticut has been accrediting hospital systems, health care systems, individual practices. I think in over 40 countries for 40 years this is their 40th anniversary and they have gone a long way to describing what is necessary to practice patient centered care from what must be provided architecturally all the way to the interactions that occur with patients at the most difficult moments of their lives.

Technology & Health Care

Technology has both allowed for revolution in the delivery of care and this will continue so that rather than spending six weeks in bed after experiencing a heart attack and having six months of physical therapy or disability after a hip replacement, patients without co-morbidities are sent home the day after a hip replacement. It's extraordinary the molecular cocktails that there are and will be available to treat cancers and other chronic illnesses are wonderful.
The electronic health record is transportable but it's not the design that is optimal. All of these technological wonders need now to be incorporated as physicians had done for these two millennia into a system of practice and care that shares the responsibility for the care to the extent possible with the patient and the family. I think it's not so far away, it's not so difficult for us to figure out how to do that as long as this is an accepted goal of the entire system with each health system contributing to it to the best that they can.