The Answer Lies Within The Collective “Us”

My father-in-law celebrated his 90th birthday on Saturday. As I watched the 4 generations have fun together, I was struck by how much technology has changed in his lifetime while the basics of our needs and our nature as humans remains constant. Let me explain.

Some 50 years ago, my favorite cartoon as a kid was the “Jetsons”. and 30 years before that, when my father-in-law was 5, he and his family gathered around the radio on Sunday nights to listen to stories on the radio. For me the Jetsons was mind-boggling, as it was science fiction. To consider that one day cars would not only drive themselves, but fly the passenger from one place to the next was amazing to me. We are basically “there”, as MTT develops a wheelchair that drives itself, and  I watched my 20-month old grand-niece “Facetime” with her aunt who was 160 miles away but technologically with us during the birthday party.

Barry P. Chaiken, MD, MPH recently wrote an article in which he states:

The rapid expansion and evolution of medical knowledge makes it impossible for any single healthcare professional to assimilate and retain the up-to-date information necessary to properly treat patients”

– See more at:

We find ourselves dealing with mind-blowing technology in health care. As consumers, providers, and advocates for our loved ones who need health care, the reality of today’s science can cure one and be terminal for another. We all must face our mortal as well as technological limitations. Basics of communication and relationship management are key.

As mortals, clinicians (doctors, nurses, therapists, researchers) must work very hard to stay on top of the game. We must increasingly rely on and trust the expertise of our team members who know more about pieces of the equation than we may personally know. We can accomplish the best plan for each individual entrusted in our care when we consider the collective “Us“.

As family members and caregivers, we expect better, in fact the best plan of care for those we care for and about. Since I read the Chaiken article, I have given a lot of thought he presented that compares health care team members to musicians of an orchestra.

There is, in fact, too much complexity in health care for any ONE of us to know; to be the SOLE person responsible, and have the intellectual property and resources to carry off the plan of care. Instead, we must work together on the patient’s behalf. If the patient is surrounded by a symphony of experts, in concert of one another, we have a chance of success. As health professionals, we must recognize that we cannot act alone.

Political views aside, I find irony that our president stated this week that “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated”. Welcome to health care, Mr. President. You may not have known but many do. There are no easy decisions. Health care reform is far more complex than any of us realized. Life (and life-changing decisions) is not black and white. There are many shades of grey in between, that color and shape the right course of action for each person entrusted in our care.

imageAs care coordinators, family caregivers and advocates, we must see ourselves as the conductor, with the baton. You have permission. Take up the baton. The baton communicates and directs the movement of the music. As an advocate, use your baton to identify your loved one’s wishes, facilitate communication between and among health care team members and ask the hard questions to move the care along. The goal will be “what is best, in this situation, with the facts before us”. You alone will not have all of the answers. The answer lies in the symphony.


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