For one week, Anne Lund pretended to have diabetes. She tested her blood sugar several times a day, responded to pages at 3 a.m. about those levels and treated her condition with placebo pills (in the form of candy rockets and Skittles). She even self injected placebo insulin into her abdomen when required. To say it gave her new insight into what it’s like to live with diabetes, she says, is an understatement. In fact, she says every decision she made that week was overshadowed by her assumed diagnosis.
You might wonder why someone would want to do something like this. Anne works for the Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team, which sees many patients with diabetes. She says understanding the patient’s perspective is really important in communicating with them and determining a care plan. And what better way than to live their experience?
This unique Sunnybrook program is called “Welcome to Your New Reality” and was developed by Diabetes Nurse Educator Leigh Caplan. She says many diabetics are juggling several medications, some in addition to insulin injections and regular blood sugar testing. “Patients find it overwhelming, so we wanted health care providers to understand and feel where their patients were coming from. They are all for everyone going on insulin, but bringing it up to [participating staff] and it was, ‘I’m not doing this!’.
The program is open to all staff, from administrative assistants to residents and physicians like Dr. Fatemah Bejaei. She said she found the week left her frustrated and angry at the disease, but also much more empathetic to the needs and challenges her patients face. She said it also made for a great ice breaker. “It made us to have something in common, that I really feel what you are going through,” she says.
And that’s really the goal. To understand a common condition in an intimate and personal way. And to then channel that into even better patient care. Because you really can’t understand what a person is going through unless you’ve really walked a mile in their shoes.