A Patient Advocate Transforms Diabetes Care

Lynn Gifford
Patient Advisor
Family HealthCare Center
Fargo, North Dakota
"The single most empowering thing that my doctor did," boasts Lynn Gifford, "is to hand me my own medical chart. Then I knew we were in this together." Lynn and six other patients from the Family HealthCare Center in Fargo, North Dakota participated in this "handing over" at the inaugural group visit launched by the Diabetes Clinic.
Lynn, who once described herself on a radio talk show as a "falling-apart, overweight woman with diabetes, gout, hypertension, high cholesterol, and major clinical depression, without any health insurance," is on top of her game. A self-proclaimed health care advocate for years, Lynn is also employed part-time as an activity director at a psychosocial rehabilitation center.
Lynn's depression led her to the Southeast Human Services Center, operated by the North Dakota Department of Human Services. There she received medications for her depression, virtually free of charge. But since the Center provides only mental health services, they could only prescribe medications related to depression and she ignored other symptoms she was having because she could not pay for an examination, let alone expensive medications. The folks at the Center repeatedly advised her to check out the Family HealthCare Center and finally, she did.
That encounter changed her life. Lynn is one member of a small group of pioneers who agreed to play a role in the transformation of diabetes care at the Family HealthCare Center. Seven patients agreed to test out a "group visit." During the appointment, they all visited separate stations (weight, foot exam, vital signs, smoking counseling, lab testing, and verbal review of medications) in a large auditorium-like room. The group then participated in a question and answer session conducted by a nurse practitioner and the attending physician. Anyone who wanted some private time with the doctor got some. Lynn pronounced it an eye opening experience.
This was a chance to meet other people who struggle with the same issues as she does. The clinic serves distinct populations and their materials are available in Arabic, Spanish, Bosnian, Somali, and English. Many Native Americans receive care here. But regardless of diversity, Lynn felt connected. She appreciated the informal exchange among patients of ideas, concerns, and solutions. And people signed up on a buddy list to continue this peer-to-peer support.
Since her involvement with the diabetes self-management group visits, Lynn has lost thirty pounds, quit smoking, and joined a gym. In her work at the rehabilitation center, she refers many people to the Family HealthCare Center, telling her own story to those she refers.
This content was developed as part of New Health Partnerships: Improving Care by Engaging Patients, an initiative of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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