"Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose because I will not part with it at any price or under any pressure." - Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
A few weeks ago, I was asked to be a part of a Cystic Fibrosis work group at a hospital on the east coast under a grant from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research institute, or PCORI. A colleague had recommended me for the position, knowing my passion for collaborative efforts in improving outcomes and the value of the patient voice in research. Below is an excerpt from the email that I received:
PCORI was founded under the ACA to fund comparative effectiveness research that improves the information available to patients in a meaningful way. Specifically, PCORI has two goals: further engage patients in research design, and reduce the gap between research results and patient knowledge. The CDRN opportunity grants institutions money to develop a large multi-million patient data warehouse for researchers (from around the country) to conduct research - both prospectively and retrospectively. PCORI will fund seven of these networks around the country to form one national network. If awarded the grant, our team would like to offer you a role as a Cystic Fibrosis Community Workgroup member.
My interest peaked, I wrote back and a day later had an interview and was submitting my biosketch and a letter of support. I made them aware of the other work I'm currently involved with to ensure there would be no conflict of interest, and expressed the need to weigh the time commitment and opportunity for compensation with these other projects. Then, as if to define how they value my knowledge, experience, and expertise, I received this reply:
While this particular position will likely be unpaid, this is an incredible opportunity to directly influence the research efforts around CF and will provide you with access to cutting edge researchers in our city.
Is my time and participation not valuable enough to compensate?
Later that week, I packed my bags and headed to MedicineX in Stanford, California, a conference that positions itself as a catalyst for new ideas about the future of medicine and emerging technologies. At this conference, there were patients and clinicians, caregivers and technologists, entrepreneurs and researchers and others from the industry. It’s difficult to explain the experience of being at a conference so full of energy, excitement and hope for better care of rare diseases and chronic conditions, better interactions with the healthcare system, and how the only way to improve is collaboration and teamwork, valuing and trusting one another, in every single possible way.
During the first day of this conference, PCORI -- the organization offering the grant mentioned above -- was presenting a panel on the importance of involving patients in research. I wondered about the offer I had received: Was it the institution that could not offer to compensate me for my time? Or PCORI that isn't accommodating patients who participate in the research by appropriately and fairly compensating them? Or maybe just not all patients? Some view the amount that I work to improve health and care in Cystic Fibrosis as remarkable. I view it as necessary. If I had endless capacity, I would do it all. But remember, I have a seriously and chronically ill child that I am caring for, in addition to 3 others, and a husband, and a couple of fish. Unlike many researchers, I don’t have an institution or grants paying me a full time salary to participate in such research.
My reaction: Don't take advantage of the knowledge and experience that I have that you want and need to create a system that works for me. Appreciate me, and embrace me just as you would any other member of your team, and just watch how far we can go together.
A huge barrier to true patient-centered care is the failure to see patients as equals to the other contributors in this system. Let's not forget than in medicine, the patient is the only one who is expert in her experience. Should the hospital that offered me the position in their workgroup receive the grant from PCORI at the end of the year, I will participate and my participation will not be in vain. I said yes, regardless of compensation status, because I know and appreciate the value of this project. I have a unique perspective to bring that I believe will add value to this research and benefit others in the community. I said yes, because so many other people who have expertise and passion and value to add don't have the time or the voice or the energy to do it. I believe that our story, in the end, will be one of success. But to quote an incredible patient and advocate that I had the great pleasure to meet in person this weekend, "Not every medicine story can have a happy ending. It's not the ending that makes it a success."
How much farther and faster could this patient-centered research go if it weren't so hard to be a part of it?