CPO Conversations: On humanizing health care
Dr. Danielle Paes, Chief Pharmacist Officer at the Canadian Pharmacists Association
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a great equalizer; a humbling reminder that we are all susceptible to the threats and consequences of disease. At the same time, it has also shown us the great things we can accomplish when we come together. We’ve witnessed first-hand what happens when bright minds from around the world unify to tackle a worldwide problem. We’ve seen the power of science and collaboration deliver a life-saving vaccine in record time. And we’ve seen new levels of open-mindedness, creativity and innovation by governments and health systems to remove systemic barriers and increase access to care—by adapting, we’ve been able to deliver this medicine to as many as possible.
I highlight these points because they are a reminder of what’s possible when we think outside the box and respond to people’s fundamental desire to stay safe and well. When we incorporate our individual beliefs and fears and their relationship with medicine into our conversations, we unlock new levels of understanding and connection to each other. In saying that, I believe health-care professionals have been able to connect with patients on a much deeper level during the pandemic because we have gone through a shared experience—where we, too, are vulnerable, where we, too, have loved ones that are at risk. Even in times when so much was unknown, we showed up to care for our communities and we helped as many people as we could. Not because we were set up to do so, but because we genuinely cared—it’s what we do as pharmacy professionals.
The pandemic has also revealed the many gaps in our health-care system. These vulnerabilities have been exposed like never before. We are seeing clear disparities in equity and access to care and it’s devastating to witness. Some of our most vulnerable communities are struggling. This has a lot of people—me included—thinking about what changes we can make to improve the situation. What’s in our control and what’s not?
I was recently asked my thoughts on the future of health care in Canada. How can the way we experience care now and into the future reflect the best in us? You can listen to it here.
My ‘big idea’ on revolutionizing health care? We need to take a step back and acknowledge our common humanity before we address medical needs. Two qualities that have shaped my practice as a pharmacist and have allowed me to make strong and meaningful connections with my patients and their families are compassion and humility. Traditionally, medicine has tended to take the approach of clinicians being the subject matter experts, with patients learning from what they say or share. It’s often a one-way exchange where the patient ‘receives’ health care from the provider. I would challenge us to rethink our approach to patient interactions. We need to view patient-pharmacist interactions as a coming together of 2 equal players, which will empower patients and their families to play an active role in the dialogue and solutioning.
If we think of the patient as the author and expert of their health-care journey, we will naturally approach our interactions with more respect, awareness and understanding. Patient-provider interactions become a sharing of knowledge and understanding in a mutually beneficial exchange. Together you formulate a plan.
When we shift our thinking and view the patient as an expert too—they are the specialists in their own life—it creates a more balanced and collaborative foundation to work from. The engagement changes into an exchange between 2 experts who are working together to achieve the same goal.
Working with sick children at Holland-Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital taught me a lot. It reminded me how precious life is and how valuable the support of family and caregivers is to recovery and healing. Some of my most cherished memories are the ones where I truly got to know my patients and those nearest to them. In pediatrics, families and caregivers are always involved in the conversation—it’s natural to do this and we should take this approach across the board. It allows you to learn a lot about your patient and their support network and meet them where they are at, which not only enriches the level of care you’re able to provide, but also builds trust, increases agency and improves the overall experience. Personal perspectives, joys and challenges are all part of the picture that we should consider in treatment.
When you, as a pharmacist, bring your medication expertise and the patient shares theirs (e.g., lifestyle details, preferences and constraints), it sets the foundation on which you can build a personalized care plan. Instead of thinking of the patient as being in the centre of the circle, the goal is to integrate them into the circle of care as an equal and valued member of the decision-making team.