Nick is a 2014 graduate of Stanford University who is using his academic background in Science, Technology, and Mechanical Engineering to develop innovative solutions for the treatment of heart failure. He and the other Fellows have immersed themselves in the world of cardiology full-time to better understand the challenges doctors and patients face.
Since beginning the Fellowship two weeks ago, I've developed a much better understanding of the social side of healthcare. When most people think about dealing with a disease, they think about medications and devices, doctor visits and therapies. But what is often overlooked, perhaps because of what is portrayed in the media, is the huge role caregivers (whether they be family, friends, or neighbors) play in the maintenance of heart failure, as well as other diseases.
Doctors we’ve talked to during the Fellowship experience have continually noted that patients without good support systems, either from the community they’re in or from a caregiver at home, don’t fare as well as their cared-for counterparts. This may be due to the psychosocial value of human interaction. We've learned that chronic disease is closely linked to feelings of depression, isolation, and fear — all emotional issues that are more easily dealt with when one has someone to share the burden with, or even just share company. Multiple presentations at the Heart Failure Society of America conference cited data suggesting that increased human contact has a truly substantial positive impact on patient wellbeing, whether it be for the psychological benefits of friendship and love or the educational aides of trust and compassion. While remote monitoring is useful for telereporting patient data to clinicians, it fails in a more holistic evaluation of patient wellbeing.
Clearly, taking perfect care of oneself is difficult. Those of us who do not struggle with heart failure don’t need help monitoring our condition, simply because being unhealthy won’t kill us. On top of needing to eat perfectly, drinking less than one may want, and exercising regularly, a heart failure patient needs to keep track of multiple overlapping medication regimens — regimens that may change suddenly and drastically based on fluctuations in weight, fluid, blood pressure, etc. Personally, I struggle to take one pill twice each day. I rarely forget, but sometimes I just don’t feel like it. Given the fact that some heart failure medications actually make patients feel worse short-term, I can definitely see myself “forgetting” to take a pill or two on occasion.
In addition to the points highlighted above, some of these patients are cognitively impaired because of their condition or age. Keeping all the factors in mind, it really does seem like it takes a village to adequately provide care for a heart failure patient. Sandra, Ellen, Megan, and I will be interviewing many more physicians and patients in the coming months as we use our different skills to improve outcomes in the treatment of heart failure.
“Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.” —Paul Brodeur