“Valleys”: A DP’s Perspective

Last week I was whisked away to Georgetown, Ontario. A young and talented Director from Alberta had hired me as his Director of Photography and all encompassing “camera guy”, for his newly envisioned web series.

Mike Lang, is the Director, and “Valleys” is his new project.

Diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 25, Mike rapidly launched Survive & Thrive Expeditions, an organization that seeks to  connect young adult cancer patients with peers. Whether it’s a whitewater trip down a river or a serene sailing trip along the inlets of Canada’s west coast – Survive & Thrive (STE) has provided much needed solitude and support to courageous patients.



And if this wasn’t enough, Mike had cameras rolling the entire time. During these past few years Mike has cut together footage of his expeditions and the intimate interviews captured between survivors.

With this he has already created  two uniquely inspirational and mind expanding films, “Wrong Way to Hope” and “Ebb & Flow“.  Mike’s films have been used as educational materials by health institutes to provide a common link between practitioners and patients.

Determined isn’t quite enough to describe Mike as he now tackles creating his third film project in only a few short years.

With the next STE trip set for this summer (a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon), Mike has his lens aimed at Amy Aubin, a young mother  scheduled to participate in this year’s trip. “Valleys” would be a web series documentary that would share Amy’s story from start to end.

As I stepped foot off the Georgetown GO bus from Toronto, it became evidently clear why Amy’s story had to be told. Amy is a two time cancer survivor – ovarian and cervical.  She’s also a loving mother to the family’s “miracle baby”, Avery.

Mike and I spent two days filming Amy and her family, making regular stops at Tim Horton’s to stay fueled.  Avery provided walk around tours of the house, her toys and pets, while Amy told her story for us and the cameras.  On the last day Mike and I were invited to a family dinner, where both sides of Avery’s family were represented – Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts, friends.

Those last few hours were precious.  We took advantage of our time at dinner and managed to interview almost everyone including Amy’s husband John and their respective parents.

To say this time was intimate would be a massive understatement.  I found myself trying to find focus between bouts of tearing from the incredibly candid and honest narratives each family member provided.  This was the hardest assignment I have filmed to date – it was also the most memorable and rewarding.

Though my time filming “Valleys” has ended, the camera is still recording.  Fingers-crossed, “Valleys” will reach its goal of raising $17,000 by April 14 so that Amy’s journey can continue to be documented full circle, from Georgetown, to the Grand Canyon. Until she arrives safely home, back into the loving and supportive arms of John, Avery, Mom, Dad, Siblings, Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, dog and cat.


What Ontario can learn from Kingston General Hospital’s authentic patient-centred reforms

By Cathy Fooks, CEO The Change Foundation

“The change that’s needed won’t come easily or quickly to healthcare. And it won’t come at all if we don’t change the debate, change the practice, 

change the experience.” – The Change Foundation Strategic Plan, 2010-2013

Three years ago I lost my Mom to cancer.  She died at home which was her wish but the struggle we had in dealing with multiple aspects of Ontario’s healthcare system shocked me.  I had worked for over twenty years in the healthcare world and came from a family full of health professionals and yet I could not “navigate” the system effectively for my mother. Why did it have to be like this?

For me it was a burning platform for The Change Foundation to focus its efforts and resources on improving the patient and caregiver experience.

So in 2011, The Foundation’s signature Meeting of the Minds event gathered 50 participants including — health system leaders, patients and caregivers, and care providers — to discuss How to ACE the patient experience?   Our dynamic keynote speaker, Barbara Balik of The Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) came to share her experience in working with organizations that are serious about creating patient-centred care.  Balik says the shift from “doing to” to “doing for” patients must move to “working with” patients and families as equal partners in decision-making about their care.

Sitting quietly in the audience was, Eleanor Rivoire, a VP at Kingston General Hospital (KGH).  A few days after the meeting was over, I received an email from KGH’s dynamic CEO, Leslee Thompson.  She said that Eleanor had come back all fired up from our meeting and that I might be interested in the work they were doing with their patients and families as they reorganized the way they provided care all grounded in its bold KGH 2015: Strategy for Outstanding Care Always.

At the operational level, KGH’s fundamental shift in organizational culture started by truly embedding patients in all levels of decision-making from top boardroom tables to frontline staff hiring panels, with a focus on quality, safety and service.  At the centre, was the creation of 17-member Patient and Family Advisory Council comprised of twelve volunteer-patients and four staff and a physician.   It was clear that KGH was on its way to embodying the genuine, transformative shift Balik prescribes; and the organization had much to teach others walking Ontario’s Excellent Care For All Act mandated quality-improvement path.

I was so impressed by KGH’s patient-centred progress, that last September, I invited Eleanor and her team to make a presentation to The Change Foundation board and offered an online profile of their work.  We also heard from KGH Patient Advisor, Jennifer Dee who spoke poignantly about her own harrowing healthcare experience and how she was using it to make a difference; and Daryl Bell, KGH”s Patient Advisory Council Lead, on the transformative value of adding the missing patient voice to healthcare discussions.

I share KGH’s story of improving the patient experience within its walls, because it holds wider lessons on how to improve patient experience across the continuum of care. That could mean going from your family doctor to specialists, to having tests at various clinics, or moving from hospital to home, with home-care services, or going to a nursing home.   Patients and their families must be included as equal partners to help transform and redesign our healthcare “system” to achieve a seamless journey and high quality care.  The Foundation offers its best advice on how Ontario can move closer to an integrated health system and improve patient experience in Winning Conditions to Improve Patient Care (November 2011)

Read our KGH profile and see video interviews with KGH leaders (below):

 Eleanor Rivoire, Senior VP Clinical Administration and Professional Practice and Chief Nursing Executive, on changing culture • Daryl Bell, Co-Chair, Patient Advisory Council, on the why & how of adding the patient voice • Jennifer Dee, Patient Experience Advisor, on using her bad healthcare experience to make a difference.

The Change Foundation is committed to working with patients like you to improve the experience of individuals and caregivers as they move in, out of, and across the healthcare system over time as their health changes, particularly at transitions.  Share Your Story with The Change Foundation to help change the story.  

Learn more about us: 

Can the patient voice design emerging healthcare technology?

Is the patient voice going to be the essential driver in the design of new healthcare technologies and mobile apps? Or will design by healthy (non-patient) people overlook the lessons learned from reflecting upon patient narratives?

The upcoming Healthcare Experience Design Conference  is going to take a look at these questions from many angles. Amy Cueva, Founder, Chief Experience Officer, and Healthcare Principal at organizer Mad*Pow has an informative blog.

Read more here.

New Top Family Doc Opportunity for Change

About 23 years ago I was in a canoe on a Muskoka lake with a young family doctor discussing some of the alternative treatments I was undergoing for my Crohn’s disease. He listened attentively and although not convinced that what I was doing was “evidence-based”, he was  supportive and encouraging. Our families shared a wonderful vacation together and we’ve been friends ever since.

On November 4, The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) installed my fellow canoer as their new president who comes with a particularly important mission and an opportunity that patients need to be aware of. Here’s some of his official bio:

Dr. Sandy Buchman practiced family medicine for 22 years. He is currently Education Lead and a Family Physician Practicing in Palliative Care at the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care in Toronto and also serves as the Primary Care Lead for the Toronto Regional Cancer Program at Cancer Care Ontario. Dr. Buchman teaches family medicine at the University of Toronto and McMaster University, and supervises residents at the Mount Sinai Hospital Academic Family Health Team.

What his official bio doesn’t include is all the humanitarian work he’s done in remote places in Africa, South America, and the streets of downtown Toronto.

In his installation address he essentially declared that the age of “social accountability” for family medicine is at hand. So when he speaks about the social contract between medicine and society, he speaks with authentic credentials. And it would benefit patients to pay attention.

I think he’s laid out an ambitious platform. But one that’s timely. The social contract between medicine and society needs to be better defined and understood. The imperatives that have been driving the practice are under pressure, if not under attack. Certainly, the broader health system is beginning to suffer convulsions from such paradigm shifts as the switch from treating acute conditions to the management of chronic illness.

He spoke to the issue so critical to patients, “the social dynamic….the relationship between patient and doctor is central to what we do and what we (family doctors) are”.

We spend about $200 billion annually on healthcare in this country, building more buildings, buying more machines, equipment, etc and consider it an expense. All the think tanks that come out with a new pronouncement every week that the system is unsustainable refer to the spending as a cost.

But what if we were to start seeing this expense not as a cost but rather as an investment in the human equipment that’s at the receiving end of the delivery of care? The return on this human capital is what is going to drive change and its core change – from a patient’s perspective – is exactly the relationship to which Dr. Buchman spoke.

If this relationship is to change then respect for each other’s perspective has got to be a founding tenet. Our storytelling platform here at PatientCommando.com is open to doctors and other practitioners to share their stories – their perspective on the doctor/patient relationship and the patient experience.

Who would have predicted over 20 years ago that I’d become a patient commando  and that Dr. Buchman would become chief changemaker at the CFPC. Nevertheless, it’s a monumental opportunity for patients. By making the social dynamic a central focus of the CFPC mission, he’s placing the CFPC squarely at the intersection of medicine and humanity.

I’m admittedly biased. I’ve seen him grow personally and professionally over the last couple of decades and there’s no question in my mind that he’s an extraordinary  role model for all family doctors. For the next year, however, I’ll put my bias aside and make it my personal mission not only to monitor Dr. Buchman’s mission and hold him accountable, but to also work hard to grow patientcommando.com as a bridge between doctors and patients to promote better understanding of how change can happen.

I wish him well. I want him to succeed. I look forward to more canoe rides.

Dr. Buchman talks about his goals for his 2011-2012 term of office.