Do You Protect Your Herd?

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(Warning! Today I’m sharing a personal opinion for which I don’t expect total agreement. But I’m steadfast in my belief. I have science behind me. I’m girded for argument… bring it on!)

When I began my patient empowerment work in 2005, I had little or no understanding of the benefits of getting a flu shot except that – maybe – it would protect me from getting the flu. But I didn’t feel like I was at risk; I lived alone, I worked from home, my kids were no longer in school (where flu runs rampant!), and I was still relatively young. I’ve always hated getting shots, so why should I bother?

It was my right to say NO flu shot for me! And I didn’t get one.

In 2007, I became the patient empowerment expert for About.com, writing hundreds of articles and blog posts each year to teach patients how to become smart patients. My work required a great deal of research into every topic imaginable as it regarded taking responsibility for our healthcare, and making wise choices for ourselves and our loved ones.

Then 2009 rolled around and we began hearing about swine flu… THAT was when I began to learn more about the real need for flu vaccines, their history, how they work, the myths generated by the fearful and conspiracy theorists each year, and – yes – the merits of flu shots.

Since 2009, I have gotten my flu shot every fall. I’ve decided I’m unwilling to take any chances.

Take chances?  For what? (you might ask) My circumstances haven’t changed much since 2009 in terms of possible exposure, so why would I be any more concerned today than I was before then?

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Merriam Webster, The Who, and Hacking Churnalism

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Today we’re channeling The Who, Merriam Webster and one of my longtime favorite fellow patient empowerment buddies, Gary Schwitzer, who reminds me at least weekly why we just can’t trust the media without very careful review.

As follows:

I love a new word. When this one appeared in my inbox last week, I wanted to share it with you because it’s an important concept for advocates and patients alike.

Today’s new word is: Churnalism. (Take that Merriam Webster!) Churnalism is the product of lazy reporters and journalists who, without further investigation or review, simply reprint (or broadcast) a submitted press release or video roll from companies looking to profit, like pharmaceutical companies or medical device makers, or others looking for donations or grants (called “soft money”) like university or non-profit research centers, or anyone else who might make money by getting their information shared.

I encountered that new word churnalism in this headline, found in Gary’s Health News Review (HNR) newsletter:

Chicago Tribune repost of news release sets new low for churnalism

Here’s the problem Gary and his team at Health News Review address:  “News” is published and broadcast every day that makes its readers and listeners sit up and take notice – and is usually at least partially wrong or incomplete, and therefore misleading.

Health News Review does just what its name suggests. They review that health news: published stories and articles (text and video) produced by mainstream media and those press release submitters, and they rate them according to a list of criteria which, when met, make a story solid, objective news — information that can be trusted. The best a story can be rated is 5 stars. The worst is zero.

Now, it strikes me that churnalism by itself is already the definition of LOW, so to say the repost by the Chicago Tribune was the lowest of low – well – I had to check it out. On the HNR scale – it hit that goose egg, that zero. Ouch.

We have all fallen victim to this deception. We read or hear things we want to believe! We read or hear things that strike fear! But so often we aren’t getting the real truth.

Here are some sample headlines with their ratings:

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When Life Gets In the Way

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Sometimes life just sucks.

At least that’s my conclusion after hearing recently from too many friends who are suffering various horrible things – health related, money related, death related, job related. And that’s just the friends who have shared their sucky situations.

Some of those friends are patient advocates, and among them are some very difficult health situations – cancer, a brain tumor, a stroke, a car accident… sometimes affecting themselves, other times affecting a loved one – a spouse, a child, a parent. I’m stunned, floored, worried, and my biggest frustration is that there is not a darned thing I can do to help any of them except to think good thoughts for them.

But then I get thinking more about their situations and I wonder…. are they prepared for what lies in front of them? I can almost guarantee they are not, and that they never even considered they would reach a point when they were not at the tops of their games, able to help clients and keep their practices growing. None of us ever expects to be faced with such debilitating hurdles; therefore we are rarely prepared to handle the consequences.

What are we supposed to do when life gets in the way?

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The Advice That May Tick You Off

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In 2012, I blogged about this very topic. One ticked-off reader then attacked me on Twitter. A day later, both she and another member of The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates left the organization, both citing the post.

Ouch.

But it was good advice then, and it’s still good advice today. So at the risk of provoking additional readers, I’m going to wade into those waters again. Since most of us are self-employed, in the process of either starting or growing a professional practice, you’ll find that this advice will serve you very well, even if it IS maddening or frustrating to you.

Why now?  Why this timing? What is it about this time that compels me to offer this advice again?

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It’s the #1 Reason: YDKWYDK

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They’re getting worse. Or at least it feels that way.

I’ve just spent a week away, traveling across the country for both business and pleasure.  While on the road, I’ve talked to dozens of people I’ve never met before. When the subject turned to the “what do you do for a living” question, and I answered, almost every one of them regaled me with a story – one story more surprising, frightening or tragic than the next. Either they or a loved one have been caught short by the medical care system, leading to inconvenience at the least, or debilitation, a huge financial hit, or even death at the worst.

There’s nothing new about the stories. I know you hear them frequently, too. Sadly, it has become a bigger surprise if someone doesn’t have a story than if they do.

But what disturbs me the most about this can be summed up in one word:  Volume.

Now, I have no statistics to back this up, but it seems to me that I’m hearing MORE bad, sad and ugly stories about care AND cost. Or maybe it’s just that peoples’ stories are more heinous or abhorrent than they once were.

Here are the stories from last week alone:

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