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  • Greg Merritt, PhD & GP

Cross Posting from AACVPR News and Views

Are Patients (and Caregivers) the Secret to Innovation in Your Practice?

By Greg Merritt, PhD and GP (Grateful Patient)

February 25, 2012, was a typical dreary, blustery wintry day in Michigan. For me, however, it was the start of a second life. I woke up complaining about heartburn to my bride. On the way to the hospital, I had sudden cardiac arrest and a heart attack. I was without a heartbeat for more than 30 minutes.

After four days in cardiac ICU, I was home reflecting on this surreal moment. 

Patients Want to Give Back

When patients have an experience like mine, they often are grateful and want to find a way to give back. In my case, I found cardiac rehab to be a place to help. While I was exercising on a bike, I was asked by Teresa Gracik, Cardiac Rehab Program Manager at Michigan Medicine at the time, to join a new patient advisory board. I welcomed the opportunity.

Because of this patient advisory board experience, along with my profound drive to find meaning and purpose in this second life, I have searched for ways for healthcare professionals to develop stronger relationships with their patients.

During the past 18 months, here is what I have discovered: Patients (and family members/caregivers) might well be the secret to innovation in your practice. How is this, you say? Let me explain.

As all who read News & Views are aware, cardiac rehab is woefully underutilized. To meet the goal set forth by Million Hearts Collaborative and AACVPR to increase patient referrals from 20 percent to 70 percent by 2022, many new ideas and experiments need to be tried.

To innovate, we need to have a problem we are trying to solve, or an industry we believe can or should be disrupted. For you, think about the problems that keep you up at night or that have you pulling your hair out during the day. How might willing and grateful patients help you to solve those things? What if you pulled the curtain back and became transparent about those struggles with your patients (particularly those who have already graduated and have seen the benefits of cardiac rehab in their daily lives)?

Innovation requires many things. I will mention just two instances in which patients/caregivers can help.

1. Diverse Perspectives

Think of three of your favorite patients/caregivers. What if you were to ask them to come to a meeting to help you solve some of the challenges that exist in your practice? Consider the following:

How might those who work outside of healthcare help you solve the issue of cardiac rehab underutilization?How could you benefit from the input of those whose academic disciplines look at the underutilization of cardiac rehab?Be specific about your problems and be open to their potential solutions, and you might well find an innovative way to improve your practice. 

2. Willingness to Experiment

If we are to innovate together, we must overcome inertia and our daily habits. Innovation requires some sense of risk and experimentation. I don't mean to say that overcoming these challenges always always requires randomized control trials and IRBs to approve. What if you were to try something like including patients who have graduated from your program as co-leads in your orientation sessions with new patients? To move forward with innovation, ask yourself the following questions:

How might you create a culture of curiosity in your teams to try new things?What if you set a goal to partner with your patients and try at least one idea every quarter that comes from them? Feel free to email me if you would like to discuss this more. To help start the movement for increasing the opportunities to engage your patients, please feel free to join and recruit patients to join the Facebook page. Together, we can find ways to increase awareness and utilization of this critical secondary prevention treatment. Maybe, just maybe, we can help others enjoy their second life as much as I do.

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