The Digital PA shares the stories and insight of Physician Assistants and other HCPs who influence, and are influenced by, a fast-moving, ever-changing digital healthcare ecosystem. The Digital PA is sponsored by Liberate Ideas, LLC, creator of the Liberate Health digital point-of-care patient education platform.
My name is Jennifer Herbstritt, PA-C, and I moderate The Digital PA.
I began working as a PA straight out of graduate school. Worked for an internal medicine group in a time and place where iPads weren’t used. Did have a Palm Pilot though with Epocrates uploaded onto it to allow me to look up unfamiliar drugs and check on drug-to-drug interactions. Had my textbooks and quarterly MPR, too. But I didn’t use a ton of technology otherwise inside of my practice. In fact, I barely used any at all…Dictaphone, I suppose. The education I had to offer my patients came straight out of my mouth or from a pamphlet cluttered in some random office drawer. Drew my own graphics on the back of my script pads…filled them up with the same old 2-D hearts and leaky valves day after day. And for the most part, yes, I was the only one capable of interpreting my own drawings. But I tried. And mostly, it worked. Did the job. Got the point across to my patients about what they were dealing with and how we were going to manage it. Still, I often wondered if my patients actually got the message that I was trying to send to them, if they were actually getting the most out of our fifteen to thirty minute encounters. I’d direct them to websites occasionally and refer them to other specialty providers when it seemed necessary but mostly what I offered them about their diagnosis and treatment plans was what they got and what they trusted…ich I’ll be honest, at times, concerned me quite a bit because, not unlike most of you, I knew my scope of practice. I knew I didn’t know everything. I couldn’t possibly know it all.
Well, life happened. I left my job as a PA to bike across the country…checked that off my bucket list…and then somehow picked up teaching. Taught as adjunct faculty at a local community college and university for awhile…A&P, biology, cadaver lab…while doing some per diem PA work until I ran into some health issues of my own. I’ll spare you the details of all of that (I’m fine now). But throughout my life experiences I’ve found that, all too often when we’re faced with something drastic, some type of life-altering situation (a poor prognosis, a frightening diagnosis, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, whatever), regardless of whether it’s expected or not, we don’t hear what’s being said after the first few words are spoken. We just can’t grasp anything else. We can’t interpret any further words after a certain point. Our minds shut down…we don’t hear anything else other than the swarm of thoughts flooding thru our minds…what’s going to happen to us, our loved ones, what this means for us, what life’s going to be like now that this has happened. You close in on this narrowing funnel of darkened chaos and emotional havoc and that’s all that you can hear. That’s all that you can see. I’m sure you’ve been there or seen it yourself in your own patients eyes…that look of fright, that look of fear, of I’m gone, you lost me, my mind’s long lost, far off from this conversation, thinking up something completely different and unrelated to the discussion that we’re having. I’ve seen it with my own patients, students, family members. I know I’ve gone there myself, ‘you said what?’. It stops you dead in your tracks.
And that’s precisely why I was driven to help facilitate this dialogue…this online community…focused on improving healthcare and empowering all of us thru the power of information and evidence-based knowledge.
I’m very passionate about opening up this dialogue in our healthcare provider community…an honest dialogue about the poor quality of communication that does indeed exist in our healthcare system today and what can be done to address it. It’s true: our patients don’t always get us. Our patients don’t always hear us. Sometimes they only hear what they want to hear. Sometimes they’re too afraid to speak up and say, ‘I have no idea what you are saying, you’ve totally lost me now, I’m scared out of my min, hold on, back up.’. They know we’re rushed and maybe they don’t want to question us. They see us as authoritarian figures, or maybe they don’t and instead they think they know the answer already, all they want is a prescription for what they’ve already decided that they have. Either way, our patients deserve the opportunity to understand their healthcare needs and opportunities and what’s available to them. So I came across this App by chance and I thought, ‘what a great way to offer our patients a tool to help them navigate thru their healthcare needs and understand what’s going on with them and their bodies…at a great tool to help them share this information with their families’.
So that’s the short of how I landed here at Liberate Health and the Digital PA. I’m here to facilitate a conversation between you and our peers on healthcare communication, actually making it happen, and how we all can become better listeners, providers and communicators in our everyday practices and lives. I look forward to engaging in this conversation with all of you.