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Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Give Us Our Dammed Data"

Originally uploaded by ThroopCat

On Thursday night in an office space in Georgetown a crowd was forming. It was an after-hours crowd. The room was filling with advocates, artists, professors, and students. There were doctors, IT professionals, authors, and members of the community. There were mothers, fathers, grandparents and children. They had all come to see an exhibit of art.

This office was the shared space for Clinovations and Osmosis. The wonderful folks at Clinovations had suggested placing one of my paintings in their space to brighten up the blank white walls. Perhaps one of my paintings would support an even greater awareness of the need for patient-centered care. I thought, why stop with one painting why not many? Why not have an entire show and invite people from every facet of health care and beyond? I wanted to create a space for conversation and networking. I wanted people to get together and have some face time surrounded by art.

I envisioned a crowd of people thinking of ways to provide better care for patients everywhere. As I thought about this, I realized that this concept would be the focal piece of the show. Give Us Our Dammed Data is my first crowd-sourced painting, and it features quite a crowd. I wanted to paint a citizen army of patient advocate authors. I knew quite a few from Facebook and Twitter and had read their work. So I asked for suggestions from Dave DeBronkart, Trisha Torrey, Lisa Lindell and Helen Haskell. Between the five us we created a list of potential authors. Helen suggested I contact all of them and ask their permission to include them in the painting. With her help I found their addresses. I really enjoyed the give and take of emailing each author. I explained I wanted to paint them and their books.

And so another crowd gathered in Georgetown on Thursday night. They did not move or laugh. They did not drink wine or nibble the delicate appetizers. Instead, they stared down upon us with sorrowful smiles. In a room usually filled with laptop computers and hushed conversation hung a large painting picturing a crowd of authors. These authors’ books span 15 years, and all of them are telling a very similar tale.

17 authors with weapons in hand stare down upon the viewer. The three panel painting measures 60 inches by 144 inches. It is a very large painting, and yet it is crowded with many who have been hurt and many who have suffered. Every one of them is an author. Most of the authors in the painting took the hurt and outrage they felt about a dysfunctional medical system and channeled that into a book. That book is their shield and their pen is a spear.

These are people who have taken up arms in a battle they had never intended to fight. Note they are dressed only loose robes or hospital gowns. Their feet are bare. They dress as the supplicant or the pilgrim. They are on a mission. For some of the citizen soldiers it has been a very long path.

Journalist Michael Millenson’s Demanding Medical Excellence was published in 1997, and as you read it it is hard to comprehend it was written 13 years ago. It reads like it was written yesterday. So in the far left panel Michael’s back faces the viewer in the piece. The public has not been listening. He is turned toward a fellow advocate who will spread the word. He is speaking to Julia A. Hallisy who looks concerned. And so she should.

This is Julia A. Hallisy, whose daughter, Kate, fought a losing battle with cancer in her short life. In 1997, Julia was well aware of the failings in our health system as she desperately tried to get an oxygen machine so her ten-year-old would be able to breathe as cancer was attacking her brain.

On the right side of Michael stands Janet Lynn Mitchell. In her book Taking a Stand she recounts her battle to walk after enduring 10 knee surgeries. Her many surgeries were due to a mistake during her original surgery. This was covered up and parts of the medical record were altered and “lost.”

Below Janet sits Martine Ehrenclou, author of Critical Conditions. Martine spent over a year guiding both her mother and godmother through medical wilderness. She saw so many hazards and “never events.” She was determined to create a book to help others survive their hospital stay.

To Martine’s left sits Evelyn V. McKnight, author of A Never Event. Evelyn contracted hepatitis along with 857 other cancer patients due to reused contaminated syringes.
Beside Evelyn sits Elizabeth Cohen, Senior Medical Correspondent with CNN. She will soon publish The Empowered Patient: How to Get the Right Diagnosis, Buy the Cheapest Drugs, Beat Your Insurance Company, and Get the Best Medical Care Every Time. She has used her years as a patient and a patient advocate for her family members to help others. Informed by years of reporting medical tragedies as a reporter, she too felt she must write a book.

In the far right panel on the lower right side sits Sorrel King. Hers is one of the sadder stories in this piece. She alone stares out of the frame and seems to make eye contact with someone who must be quite small…. Sorrel lost her daughter Josie. Josie was only 18 months old. Josie was recovering from a bad burn when she died from severe dehydration and unfortunate dose of narcotics. Sorrel knows intimately the importance of patient and caregiver access to medical record. Being able to read the orders in a record can save a life.

Seated behind Sorrel to the left is Lisa Lindell. Lisa wrote 108 Days. In her book she tells a day-to-day account of her successful campaign to keep her husband alive. She was astounded when she read her husband’s medical record. The nurse’s notes specified that she had an “unreasonable” belief that her husband should live.
Beside Lisa sits Patrick Malone a malpractice attorney and patient rights activist, who wrote The Life You Save. Patrick lists nine necessary steps to getting the most out of the current medical system. The number one step is: Get a copy of your medical record.

Behind Patrick to his left stands Jari Holland Buck. She wrote Hospital Stay Handbook. She would understand the frustration of Lisa Lindell, as she too, kept her husband alive during his hospital stay.

Beside Jari stands Margo Corbett, the author of The Savvy Patient Toolkit. She became inspired to advocate after she was told her husband may not survive the night. She used all of her talent and past job experiences to create a guidance book for patient care.

To Margo’s Left stands Carolyn Oliver,MD, who wrote Cautious Care: A Guide to Patients. This was the first patient empowerment book I ever read. Fred Trotter gave me a copy after I asked an access question before the crowd at Connect 2009 in DC. I loved it its simple and clear instructions.

Next in line is Sanjaya Kumar, MD author of Fatal Care. Dr. Kumar is dedicated to the improvement of patient safety and real time collection of data.
In the center panel to left stands John James. He lost his son Alex at the age of 19. John was astounded when he read Alex’s medical record. He saw so many mistakes and examples of miscommunication that led to Alex’s death.
To John’s right stands Sandra Gilbert author of Wrongful Death. Her husband died during routine surgery. Her story recounts her efforts to grieve while trying to find out what exactly had happened.
In the center stand the ones who lived. Dave Debronkart author of Laugh, Sing and Eat Like a Pig and Trisha Torrey author of You bet your life, The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes complete our 17. They had a very different experience. They got access to their medical records; they fought the system and won. The title of the piece is a play on the words Dave spoke: “Gimme my damned data.” His phrase described the anger and frustration of all of us who have suffered so in a system where a patient sees a record only as an afterthought. I decided to expand on his comment and add an actual dam.

So in the middle of this painting stands a version of Hoover Dam labeled Meaning Use, HITECH. The data may still be dammed, but now it has begun to flow and it is pouring right into a laptop computer. We may have to wait three days, but due to government action, we will get access to our records.
This has been a long post. I may have lost some of you in listing all of the advocate authors. I hope you are still reading for there are two others in this picture.

To the far left stands Clay Shirky author of Cognitive Surplus, and to the right is Melinda Blau, author of Consequential Strangers. They are feeding the pack mules.

Every army must have pack mules. They supply the troops; they carry the supplies and are sure-footed on the mountainous path. If you haven’t read the books I would recommend them to be read together. Melinda reminds us of the power of all the people in our life. It is the friend’s friend who often gets us the job or finds us the right doctor. Clay Shirky informs us of the inherent potential in a world where thousands of people log on and data crunch with no other goal than doing good for others. He sees the future of medicine when it combines with the data aggregation of sites such as Patients Like Me.

So this is the story of Give Us Our Dammed Data. It is a painting that had 17 advocate authors. I could have painted more. I could have covered every wall in the Clinovations office space with advocates who are fighting for us. I stopped with 17.

Why? There are 17 people in 73 Cents. There are 17 pills in another piece at this exhibit, Sutent in a Shadow Box.

And I took up my shield and sword on June 17th 2009. My shield is a canvas and my sword is a paintbrush. I am so glad my art can create a space where these authors can look upon us as the mighty army they are. I am in awe of the work they have done. I hope you will feel the same.


  1. I am ordering consequential strangers right now. these pics and the descriptions...will repost to my friends.

  2. This post, like your presentations and paintings leave one speachless--and in deep thought. It reminded me of a book which comes from a different angle but sends many of the same messages: "If Disney Ran Your Hospital--9 1/2 Things You Would Do Differently" by Fred Lee.
    Keep the Art Nights coming!

    Lindsey Hoggle

  3. Wow, this is amazing. Beautiful. Poignant. Painful. Awesome. Sad. Aggravating. And a slice even hopeful. Your talent is magnificent. Thank you for sharing and I can't believe I hadn't connect with you sooner! Thank you for all you are doing!
    Mary Ellen
    author, "Split the Baby: One CHild's Journey through Medicine & Law" (2009)

  4. Regina--Thank you for sharing the details of the painting so people who were not physically at the opening can participate.

    Your work reminds me of Medieval murals, both in its visual style and in the role it plays in communicating complex ideas to a diverse public, some of whom may not read, and many of whom don't "read" or understand the tangled snarl that is our healthcare system. Thanks again for all you are doing.

    - Lygeia

  5. It was a true pleasure to finally meet you IRL on Thursday, and to see the powerful images you've created to communicate the frustration every patient feels when dealing with the Health Care Car Wash. As someone whose work involves breaking down the walls that prevent real communication/connection between clinicians and patients, I salute your ability to capture frustration, and hope, on canvas. I feel privileged to know you ;)

  6. Regina,

    This is a wonderful work of art and the way you present it in words is compelling. I remember my father's frustration when my grandmother passed in the hospital due to a diagnosis that came six months too late--by that time her own body had poisoned itself and gangrene had done too much damage to save her minus a surgery that had a very low survival rate due to her 84 years of age.

    The irony is that we never thought to demand her medical records because, frankly, I don't think we realized we had the legal right to pursue the information.

    I wish that I had seen this before that Christmas in 2007. I'm thankful for what you're doing and how you're getting people involved in the hopes that more people can save their lives or those of the people they love before miscommunication causes a fatal error.

  7. Thank you for sharing this slice of your life.
    The power of art to help bring change and understanding is fully on display :-)

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