More Than Just Numbers

By | October 21, 2018

Kate Gamble, Managing Editor & Director of Social Media,

Two weeks ago, I attended the first CHIME Advocacy Summit. It was an intimate event that packed a lot of education, discussion, and networking opportunities into a relatively small time period. But of all the conversations I had, the one that was by far the most impactful wasn’t with a government official, a hospital executive, or a vendor.

It was Janet Kopetsky, who made the cross-country trip to Washington D.C. with her husband, Ed, who is CIO at Stanford Children’s Health and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, and co-chair of CHIME’s Opioid Task Force. Launched earlier this year, the Task Force has already made strides toward its goal of educating healthcare leaders, facilitating best practice sharing, and advocating for stronger legislation.

That’s the good part. The tragic part is that the initiative was founded after Ed and Janet lost their son Timothy last year to addiction. The 31-year-old was one of more than 72,000 individuals who died as the result of a drug overdose in 2017, and experts predict it could get worse if the prescribing trends continue.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, with between 8 and 12 percent developing an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
  • Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.

The statistics are eye-opening. But what’s even more powerful is hearing from people like Ed and Janet, who have been able to put aside their pain and share their story, demonstrating a level of courage few would be capable of.

After Ed spoke at the CHIME event, I introduced myself to Janet, and told her how inspired I am by what she and her husband are doing. She smiled and told me that they just wanted to help other families. I have no doubt that they will — if they haven’t already.

That’s because there is nothing more powerful than sharing your own experience. Ed could’ve rattled off numbers for an hour, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful as the sound of his voice and the look on his face when he talked about Tim’s struggles.

The same can be said with a number of issues facing the industry today, one of which is physician burnout and depression. As with opioid addiction, the statistics are staggering. Of the 15,000 physicians surveyed by Medscape (in the 2018 National Physician Burnout and Depression Report), 42 percent reported burnout, and 15 percent admitted to experiencing either clinical or colloquial (“feeling down”) forms of depression.

And of those who reported burnout, nearly half rate its frequency at 5 or higher (on a scale of 1 to 7).

This is a problem. But to truly understand the scope of it and how it affects others, it’s the stories – and not the numbers – that paint a compelling picture. Another person who has shown incredible courage in sharing a personal tragedy is Janae Sharp, a health IT consultant whose husband John Madsen (a physician), died by suicide three years ago. Although Sharp had noticed that John’s mood had shifted during the time leading up to his death, she had no idea how much he was suffering. What she did know was that the healthcare setting her husband lived and worked in created “the perfect storm and a bad environment for mental health,” she said in an interview.

And, like Ed and Janet, she became determined to change things for the better. Earlier this year, she founded the Sharp Index, an organization dedicated to reducing physician suicide and burnout through awareness and anonymous peer support, as well as better EHR tools for predicting and helping providers. In short, the goal is to “heal the healers.”

It’s not going to be easy, however, especially when there are so many factors at play. But it’s a discussion that needs to be happening at all levels. In that vein, Sharp has generously agreed to serve as a panelist on healthsystemCIO’s first Tweetchat along with Lee Milligan, MD, CMIO at Asante Health. Dr. Milligan is passionate about the topic as well, having spearheaded the launch of Asante’s Physician Builder program to help clinicians become more involved in its Epic implementation. He sits on the Governing Board for Asante, as well as the Oregon ACO. An emergency physician, he has written several pieces on the role leaders play in delivering solutions that help, rather than hinder, clinicians, and the keys to implementing a solid EHR training program.

Please join us for the discussion, “Physician Burnout & the Health IT Leader’s Role,” which will take place Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. EDT. The more input and involvement we can get across the industry, the fewer individuals will become statistics.

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