Author Anna Quindlen asks medical schools: do you really know your patients?

QuindlenAny of us would probably have paid to be at the gathering of over 1000 medical school deans, faculty and residents at last week’s American Association of Medical College’s (AAMC) meeting to hear Anna Quindlen deliver her speech, Healthcare in an Age of Information: How Doctors, Nurses and Consumers Can Make One Another Better.  [Her speech is available until 12/3/2013. Not sure about access after that.]

Quindlen, a Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author, gave the Jordan J. Cohen Humanism in Medicine Thought Leader Session at the AAMC annual meeting, sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. According the this foundation, these lectures “feature prominent speakers on topics related to humanism and medicine”.

Every participatory medicine advocate should read it and put it in their Important Documents for All of Time. Her powerful words and stories got to me, and I wasn’t even there. I would liked to have seen the faces of everyone in that room. Were they listening, really listening, to hear what she was trying to say (her primary message)? Did they recognize the distinction between how simple her message was, and the magnitude of its impact? Did they understand that health care is just another part of society – like journalism – that must embrace social change or implode?

I can’t do justice by summarizing her speech, but offer some of her comments to provide a glimpse of their import:

As she shares her story of two surgeries with very different experiences, she implores clinicians and the healthcare team to answer the question,

“Do you know anything about me?”

When they go about their work and don’t seem to care or to notice who she is and what she wants, she describes a sense of feeling like they’ve

“..lost their mind, or lost their way”.

Quindlen gives us great personal insights talking about her father’s tragic injury. The professionals caring for him and the family were fully attuned to their needs, offering high-touch, meaningful care. They listened, they noticed, they asked and listened again.

To the meeting audience, she offered elegant recommendations:

  • try to be present in the moment
  • acknowledge uncertainty
  • practice empathy
  • try to be kind

She also paints a parallel between medicine and journalism. In news, changes in  consumer information seeking created greater sharing and dissemination. There’s been a shift of power in who holds information. She sees the surge in quick clinics and DIY care as responses to changing consumer/patient needs. She believes healthcare needs to use the same digital tools to shift the power and provide services that are wanted.

Thank you, Anna Quindlen, for a landmark essay about participatory medicine.



Posted in: e-patient stories | general | pt/doc co-care | reforming hc | shared decision making




8 Responses to “Author Anna Quindlen asks medical schools: do you really know your patients?”

  1. Susannah Fox says:

    I agree! It is a wonderful speech. I printed it out in order to save a copy, since it is apparently going to disappear after 30 days (and appears as a JPEG, which I’ve never seen before).

  2. We are delighted that Anna Quindlen’s speech has garnered such a wide audience. Ms. Quindlen was very kind to allow us to post it on our blog, Humanizing Medicine, until December 3, 2013. She has requested that the speech not be downloaded, copied or printed. While we know the speech is meaningful, powerful and memorable, as requested on our blog post, please honor Ms. Quindlen’s and The Gold Foundation’s request to refrain from printing, copying or downloading the speech. However, we do encourage all that have read it to broadcast the availability of the speech on our blog until 12/3 as widely as possible. For more information about The Arnold P. Gold Foundation, which is working ensure that healthcare professionals are as compassionate and respectful as they are technically proficient, please visit

    • Susan Woods says:

      Clearly this speech hit a chord – many chords – that are the music of the Society of Participatory Medicine. SPM is delighted that the speech content was temporarily available. In the spirit of open access and transparency (at the heart of SPM goals) and the moving nature of her words, we hope her essay can soon become more accessible.

      The Arnold P. Gold Foundation’s critical goals of compassionate, patient-centered care align with our Society. We encourage your leaders and members to learn more about SPM. We are patients, consumers, caregivers, patient advocates and a wide spectrum of health professionals, striving for “participatory design” – ensuring patient participation and contribution at an individual and organizational level. Guiding clinician practices and encouraging mutual collaboration are SPM Guiding Principles.

      SPM members: read the speech NOW!

      Gold Foundation: thanks, on behalf of SPM. We welcome your partnership toward our similar journeys!

    • Carly says:

      Do you understand that providing the speech only as a jpeg significantly limits the accessibility for people who use assistive technology? If text (or alt text) is not provided, screen readers cannot access the text. If the content is presented as text, the font size cannot be increased clearly. Does anyone else find it sad that a medical organization “which is working ensure that healthcare professionals are as compassionate and respectful as they are technically proficient” does not think to provide accessible content?

    • I created ACOR in 1995 to make sure cancer patients had continuous access to information that could save their lives, because before that, if they were not present at the time a conversation took place, they had no way of knowing what had been said. Making such an important text available, but only until day x, and without any support for assistive technologies, is like telling a cancer patient they can have access to descriptions of curative treatments, but only if they can climb a mountain and read them, in a cave by day x.

      This great speech, clearly written in the era of patient empowerment, deserves to benefit many, by being carried wide and far via the network effect. It is its destiny. It will happen, one way or another.

  3. Brandy King says:

    Hi everyone,
    We are sorry we couldn’t make the speech more accessible. These are the terms we agreed to with Ms. Quinlan for this particular talk. Thank you for letting us know that screen readers are not able to pick the images up, that is something we did not know. Should we run into this situation in the future, we will bring up accessibility concerns such as these.
    Brandy King, The Gold Foundation

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