The World’s Biggest Expert In Me

By Anne Weiss

Anne Weiss is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation senior program officer and team director. This post originally appeared on RWJF’s Culture of Health blog on March 24, 2014. 

I’ve worked at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for almost 15 years, and it’s still thrilling (and a little intimidating), working with some of the world’s leading experts, thinkers, and innovators, not to mention colleagues who are brilliant, passionate, and kind. While I’ve never admitted this before, as a long-time fan of television medical dramas the people from clinical backgrounds, the “white coats,” especially fascinate me. The doctors, nurses and other health professionals I work with seem part of some mysterious club, survivors of years of arduous training who have the ability to improve peoples’ lives in a way I simply can’t.

But it turns out that I am an expert, something I learned from a new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation initiative called Flip the Clinic. Flip the Clinic aims, quite simply, to help patients and their doctors (or other providers) get more out of the medical encounter: that all-too-short office visit that leaves both parties wishing for more time, more information, more of a relationship. You can learn more about the history of Flip the Clinic, including its intriguing name, here.

This week, we’re launching a new version of the Flip the Clinic website that includes a number of simple strategies that can help patients and providers get started with efforts to re-energize the clinical encounter. We hope it will inspire even more ideas. Because Flip the Clinic isn’t just a list of projects sitting on a website—it’s a community of learners talking about what works and doesn’t work to help patients and providers stay healthy and happy. 

Stop and think about that moment at the end of your medical visit, when you are changing out of the gown and back into your clothes. What do you wish you’d had time to talk about with your doctor? A lot of times, I wish I could share more about what my life is like outside the exam room. For example, I know people who can’t exercise because of their work schedules. Or who can’t choose between making their student loan payment and filling a new prescription that has a steep copayment. How can we bring those realities into the doctor-patient discussion?Flip the Clinic features many ideas for how to do this, but the one that really grabs me is called “new vital signs.”  The idea is that the traditional vital signs, like blood pressure and temperature, are not the only relevant information about the factors that affect our health. The new vital signs are things like, “Do you have a job? Are you financially secure? Do you have a life partner? Where do you live?” I would love to have my doctor review my “new vital signs” the next time I visit his office!I can hear you asking, “Can we really expect providers to pack even more into a brief office visit?” Or, “How is a trained clinician supposed to help patients with social needs like hunger or employment?” But there are a growing number of initiatives designed to help the health care system connect with community resources that keep people healthy. For some examples, check out the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America’s recent report, which highlighted an impressive array of promising approaches, such as Health Leads.I learned about the new vital signs when I attended a Flip the Clinic design workshop last fall, at the same time I was being treated for breast cancer. My treatment team obviously hadn’t heard the terms “Flip the Clinic,” or “new vital signs,” but that’s exactly the way we worked together. The white-coats walked me through tons of medical evidence, but then they asked me to assess my attitudes toward different kinds of risks. They asked me about how to schedule my treatments around my job. They asked my husband about how he was faring.There were lots of decisions to make, and in the end, while the clinical experts had information to share, the decisions were made using vital signs reported by the world’s biggest expert in me: me.Come on over and join the Flip the Clinic community. Whether you’re a doctor or a patient, come prepared to talk about the new vital signs at your next visit. Your expertise will make it a better experience for everyone.