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I have some illuminating discussions with healthcare professionals. After I’ve had an in-depth conversation, I find myself going over things they have told me and discover that I have always learnt something new about what it means to work in a system that is, in many ways, broken. I learn how their approach to healthcare changes year by year as they try to do their best for the people they see each day. And I realise that I never, ever could do their job.

Other times, I shake my head a little because I wonder how their understanding of the day-to-day challenges of living with a chronic health condition is so far removed from reality. In these cases it’s almost as though we are speaking different languages.

Recently I spoke to a group of HCPs about those differences. I focused on how we manage to fit diabetes into our busy lives in ways that HCPs never can imagine and how the neat text book description of life with diabetes is very different from the mess that we are trying to tame each day. I spoke about how what they say can be read in a multitude of different ways by those of us on the other side of the consultation, and to think about words carefully. And I spoke about how although some education of HCPs about diabetes suggests that there is a one size that somehow fits us all, the truth is that we require our education to take into consideration every size and shape possible and for it to be delivered accordingly.

A doctor came up to me afterwards and thanked me for my talk. ‘Thanks for making me think differently about some things,’ she said. I loved that she said that, and I told her so. ‘Actually, that’s always one thing that I hope to get when I hear someone speak about diabetes – a new perspective or way of thinking about something that I think I have all worked out.’

We chatted a little about what she’d heard that had surprised her and would she would now be thinking about in other ways. I may have high fived her when she said that she would now be taking a lot more care with the language that she uses. ‘I had no idea that what I was saying had such stigma attached. I honestly thought I was saying the right things. I never meant for people to feel blamed, but I can see now how I could have come across that way.’

That’s been one of the challenges of the #LanguageMatters movement in diabetes. As we’ve tried to bring HCPs along for the ride, we’ve had to do it in a way that doesn’t make it sound like we are berating them. I do and will continue to call out language that impacts on PWD negatively because it does matter. Language has the power to make us feel like we can take on diabetes or be defeated by it; it can make us feel like we are doing all we can and that is enough, or that we are failing and will never do enough. Again, for those down the back – language does matter. But I truly have never believed that HCPs use language with any malice or intent of harm. It’s often just because they repeat the words and phrases that have always been used.

I explained this to the doctor and we spoke about how to get the message across in a way that highlights and promotes collaboration. After we’d been speaking for about 10 minutes, she said ‘I have a question for you,’ I nodded, eager to hear what she wanted to ask. ‘What’s the best kept secret in diabetes?’

I was startled. What an interesting – and frankly brilliant – question. I’d never been asked that before and I wanted to think about it a lot. Poor woman – I’m sure that she just wanted some sort of quippy response and to be done with it so we could go home and eat dinner.

‘Wow!’ I started, excitedly. ‘I love this. Are there any secrets to diabetes?’ I started a checklist, going through some ideas.  ‘Is it peer support? For some reason, a lot of people don’t know just how widely available this is. Or maybe it’s how people can drive their own healthcare by setting the agenda. I frequently have people tell me that they just do what their doctor tells them (or rather, say they will) because they didn’t realise that healthcare could be an open and joint dialogue. In diabetes, maybe it’s all the clandestine DIY stuff that is going on which is so apparent to those of us who play on Facebook and Twitter, but maybe not to those who are not online as much. I know it’s NOT cinnamon. Actually – maybe it’s the whole thing about how when living with diabetes, or other chronic condition, our mental health is rarely taken into account, so perhaps understanding that and being referred to relevant services is the secret. It happens to so few of us…’

I stopped, because I could sense that there was so much I wanted to say, but I truly didn’t have an answer. ‘I don’t really know,’ I sighed. ‘I wish I did. I wish there was one…’

We said our good byes and I started to walk away before the doctor called after me: ‘You know what the best kept secret in diabetes is?’

I spun around. ‘What?’ I asked. I admit that I was hoping for a key that was going to unlock the mysteries of diabetes and suddenly make it a lot easier to live with.

‘You,’ she said. ‘And others like you. If only doctors like me took the time to listen to you all we would know a lot more and probably do a much better job.’

I smiled at her. ‘We’re not really a secret,’ I said. ‘We’re actually quite out there. You’re just not looking in the right places. Or asking the right questions.’

I gave her a little wave and left the room.

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This post marks one thousand posts here on Diabetogenic*. That’s a lot of senseless rambling, ragey-moments, times celebrating and despairing about diabetes, and links to brilliant ideas and post… or to things that have either amused, frustrated, delighted or annoyed me.

A thousand posts in and diabetes is still a constant in my life (damn it). And I remain not good at diabetes…and I have many of those thousand posts to prove it.

There are clearly some recurring themes that I write about. I say that I am a one trick pony, but perhaps that’s not completely true. I seem to have a few tricks up my sleeve, really. And now I’m confused, because ponies don’t usually have sleeves and my metaphors are very, very mixed.

Here are the things that seem to have taken up a lot of writing time and words over these thousand posts…


Peer support

Most of the time, I am pretty positive about living with diabetes. Let me be clear: that doesn’t mean I love it, or even like it. But I feel that generally, I know where it belongs in my life and it seems to fit in that place as well and happily (begrudgingly) as it can.

I know that one of the reasons that I feel this way is people in the diabetes world I am lucky enough to call friends and peers. Online friends, in real life friends and those who cross both boundaries are a critical part of my living-well-with-diabetes strategy. Knowing that there are only a very few places around the world where I couldn’t find someone from this community to have a coffee/tea/prosecco/mojito with gives me an incredible sense of comfort. (And reassurance in case of diabetes emergency…)

I say that my peers with diabetes help me make sense of my own diabetes and that’s true. Knowing people who understand innately what it is like to share a body with diabetes means that I never feel alone. Diabetes is so isolating at times – even for those of us surrounded by great people who support and encourage us. As much as I need those people and am grateful for them, it is others living with diabetes that help me realise that I am never, ever alone in dealing with the ‘diabetes things’.

The diabetes online community is made up of lots of people and not all have diabetes. We each bring our own experience and perspective to it. I’ve learnt so much from those living arounddiabetes and how they incorporate it into life, because it comes with its own set of challenges and victories. That is why the community is so valuable – its diversity and range of experiences and perspectives.

I regularly talk about the value of community and diabetes peers and finding our tribe. It can take time to settle into just who and what that looks like, and it changes because there are always new people around. But it is so worth it. My tribe? I love them so hard.

Nothing about us without us

I am not the tattooing type but if I was, I think that I would have this phrase inked on my body somewhere (or maybe I’d be really pretentious, and have it written in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis, according to Google translate.) It remains a frustration of mine that this isn’t the starting point for pretty much anything and everything to do with diabetes care. The fact that we still need to fight for a seat at the table – or a ticket to a diabetes conference – is, quite simply, not good enough. Having others speak for us, on our behalf thinking they know what we need, is offensive.  It should never be the case that non-PWD voices speak for us or over us. Ever. Our stories are powerful, but they are ours and we should have the platform to tell them in our own way; in our own voice.  Tokenism is rife and sometimes, that frustrates me even more than when we are completely excluded. The delusion of inclusion is, I think, worse.  Whilst there may have been some strides made to true co-design and inclusion, we have not come far enough and until we get this write, I’ll have a lot of content fodder for this blog.

Food

I like food. I write about it a lot. And I want to be Nigella. That’s really all I have to say about it right now…

Waffles in Brussels. Both were excellent.

More than numbers

Apparently, stating the obvious is still necessary in diabetes. We are more than numbers; our A1c does not define us; our worth is not wrapped up in our glucose levels. We have been saying these things for years…decades…and yet there are still times that this is what we are reduced to.

New treatments, devices, drugs, education programs are measured in reduction of A1c. Perhaps this is because it can be measured, but talk about only getting part of the story. I can’t help but think that if PWD were part of establishing research protocols, there may be far more than numbers to assess the success of a treatment or therapy. (See also: nothing about us without us…)

Women’s health

In recent years I’ve written about the issues specific to women, health, sex and diabetes a number of times because there is so little out there about it. And it seems it resonated with a number of women who wrote to tell me (and the HCP who saw me in the fresh produce section at my local Woolies and yelled how she loved my idea of giving lube in diabetes event bags).

Anyway…talking about the stuff that may not be the easiest is important. It’s the only way we get remove stigma and encourage people to share their stories. Which helps others. That’s why I have openly written and spoken about miscarriages and infertility. And eating disorders. (I know – not an exclusively women’s health issue.) There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about these topics. Other than we don’t speak about them enough.

Learning from and supporting others

The Interweb Jumbles I write are my favourite (and cheat’s) way of pulling together all the things I’ve seen that have interested me and leaving them in future place for (my) future reference. Plus, I love sharing what others in the diabetes community and world are doing.

I have always benefited from the generosity of others in this community who have shared my work and I pay that back whenever and wherever I can. Supporting each other is critical.

There’s so much going on in the diabetes world all the time and I highlight the things that resonate because I think that if they mean something to me, they may mean something to someone else, too.

Science. Science. Science

From pseudo-science rubbish, to ridiculous made-up diabetes cures to anti-vax delusions. How much writing material have they provided!

I live in hope that one day – and may that day be soon – we won’t still have to read about these charlatans trying to convince us that all that ails us can be cured with fairy dust and positive thought, or that vaccines are evil and cause diabetes, or that ‘wellness warriors’ are the true experts and professionals when it comes to diabetes.

While a lot of what I write is spent mocking these fools, there is an underlying seriousness to it all. Who can forget little Aiden Fenton who died after his parents stopped giving him insulin, instead leaving him to be treated by a ‘slap therapist’?

Anyone who is sprouting any treatment that is not based in science when it comes to diabetes or perpetuating anti-vax rubbish is as barbaric as the man who was charged with Aiden’s death.

The whole person

Diabetes happens because of something not working properly with our pancreas. But it affects every single part of us – something that astoundingly still seems to surprise some people.

Considering our mental health and emotional wellbeing is critical when assessing just how diabetes impacts on our every day. For some, diabetes seeps into every single part of us and for others, we keep it at bay and manage around us. For most of us, there is an ebb and flow of just how that works.

And while we’re talking about the whole person, diabetes-related complications may be specific to a particular body part, but those body parts remain connected to the rest of us.

For so long, we get metaphorically chopped up with as only bits of us get attention and focus. But nothing in diabetes is ever in isolation. That’s just not how it works.

And finally, language

The trick this (however-many-trick) pony is most known for is #LangaugeMatters and you know what, I’m happy to wear that. I really am. If I was to stop this blog today (thought about it…1,000 has a nice rounding off feel to it), and never spoke about diabetes ever again (oh, if only), I would not be disappointed if this was what people thought of when they thought of me and this blog.

Language matters. It does and I refuse to, for a moment, believe that it doesn’t. I am certainly not the only person playing in this space and I am so grateful to have a tribe of language matters peers and colleagues can rise above the small details to understand just why this issue does really matter.

___________

Thanks to everyone who has read one or more of these thousand posts. Thanks especially to the people who keep coming back. I can’t promise that there are going to be a thousand more posts. And I can’t promise that I will learn any new tricks other than the ones that I seem to have on repeat at times. These issues remain important to me and perhaps to you too.

* At EASD, my mate Bastian Hauck gave me a head’s up that I was getting close to publishing the 1,000 post on this blog. I’d not have had a clue otherwise. Thanks, Bastian!

Here’s the deal. Changing one word for another that means exactly the same thing is not addressing the whole #LanguageMatters issue. Acknowledging that one word doesn’t work and may not be especially empowering and positive for people with diabetes only to replace it with another that is equally problematic is not really helping.

Case in point: more and more healthcare professionals and researchers have accepted that the word compliant, (and its friends non-compliant and compliance) are out. So, they replace them with adherent, and non-adherent and adherence.

No. Just no. And stop it.

They mean exactly the same thing and do the same thing: rap people with diabetes over the knuckles for not following an often-imposed plan about how we should manage the condition we live with. (‘Should’ is also a dirty word as far as I’m concerned, but we’ll deal with that another day.)

I am frequently asked what words would be better, but I prefer to give an explanation about the reasons these words are problematic. Because I think if people have an understanding of why these words set some of us off, perhaps they may be less likely to simply swap out one tricky word for another.

Let me refer to the Diabetes Australia Language Position Statement for a moment:

‘Use of the terms ‘(non-) compliant’, ‘(non-) adherent’ is particularly problematic. Such terms characterise the individual as cooperative or uncooperative, especially when used as adjectives to describe the person rather than the behaviour. Using these labels can mean opportunities are lost to ask relevant questions, develop collaborative goals, tailor treatment regimens and make referrals that actively support the person to manage his or her diabetes. Attempts to increase ‘compliance’ and ‘adherence’ generally involve persuading the person with diabetes to change his or her behaviour to fit the health professional’s agenda.’

There is a lot of judgement attached to these terms.

I think back to when I was diagnosed with diabetes and the first inkling I had that I was going to struggle to follow directions was when the dietitian I saw the day after diagnosis showed me a rubber mould representing the quantity of mashed potato I should eat in one sitting. I was twenty-four years old and knew just how much food I liked on my plate and that was not it. In fact, it looked more like the quantity I would eat over a week – not one meal.

I mentioned that to the dietitian. I explained how I love food, but I eat until I am full and then stop because I’d learnt that listening to my body was a really important to me. (That sounds all Zen-like, but truthfully, it is just so I don’t get the revolting over-full feeling when I don’t listen to my body’s signals!) Surely there had to be a way that I could still do that even with diabetes along for the ride. Right?

She just looked at me and told me that I had to eat that amount because of my insulin dose. ‘Can I take less insulin then?’ I asked. ‘No. That’s not how it works,’ she replied, without explaining why.

So, I nodded and promised to eat thirteen kilos of potatoes at every meal. And within a week I had worked out how to eat less, dose less and still listen to my body. Oh – and I learnt how to lie to HCPs and tell them what they wanted to hear. And that I never, ever wanted to sit in a room with another dietitian.

Was I being ‘non-compliant’? Well, I certainly wasn’t following what I had been instructed to do. But I was eating what made me feel good and dosing insulin accordingly. Surely that had to count for something? Yet, when I returned to see the dietitian for the follow up appointment that I diligently (compliantly?) kept, she tut-tutted me for not following the eating plan she had given me – an eating plan into which I’d had no input.

This is a recurring theme in diabetes. We hear of people being ‘told off’ for not following treatments, but we are not given the opportunity to help shape those treatments.

Being ‘compliant’ in diabetes suggests that we are doing what we are told. It means that we don’t question, we just willingly follow directions without considering whether or not they work for us. It also suggests there are rules and that if we follow them – if we ‘comply’ with them – we can expect the outcomes to always be the same. Diabetes doesn’t work that way.

I think back over the two decades I’ve lived with diabetes and know that time and time and time again I have been thought of as ‘non-compliant’ simply because I didn’t do what a HCP thought was the best thing for me, instead working my way around and finding what worked. Diabetes isn’t fun, so you bet I have looked for ways to do things that take less effort, less time, less brainpower, less burden. That’s not because I don’t care. It’s because when I find a way that works better for me, I’m more likely to do it.

Every single one of those times that a HCP has thought of me as ‘non-compliant’ was a missed opportunity for us to work together to collaboratively come up with treatment plans, strategies and goals that worked for me.

When we are accused of being ‘non-compliant’ with medication, activity or eating plans, attending appointments, filling in glucose records or anything else that we are expected to do in diabetes, it’s not because we are being wilfully naughty. It is because whatever we have been asked to do is not right for us – we simply cannot do it, or don’t understand why. Sometimes of course we don’t want to do it, but there is usually a reason why we then don’t act.

Compliant (and non-compliant) are dirty words in diabetes. And replacing them with adherent (and non-adherent) doesn’t make it any better because they mean the same thing.

If you are a healthcare professional and use these words when referring to PWD, I suggest that you stop and start again. Think about what you are saying. The person in front of you is not a naughty child, waiting for your approval or rebuke. They do not need to be told that they have failed at meeting (what were probably unrealistic) expectations. They certainly don’t need to feel ashamed and judged by you.

What we need is something quite simple, really. We need to be asked what matters to us and what will work for us. We may need to be asked that a few times. If you are talking about a course of treatment, make sure that we understand that it is just a suggestion and that we can alter it to fit us. Remind us that if we can’t follow it that doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It probably means that together we need to tweak things so that we can follow.

Until the language that we see routinely in diabetes is about supporting, encouraging people with diabetes and positively influencing the broader community discussion about our condition, I will continue to call out any time I hear these words being used. I accept that there is no quick fix. And while I accept that healthcare is incredibly traditional in its communication, I refuse to accept it as a reason to continue to use language that is so damaging. ‘Because we always have’ or ‘Because they’re the words we use that make sense’ is not an excuse to refuse make change for the better.

Postscript

It’s not only in diabetes where we see this sort of language. See this tweet from The Grumpy Pumper about flaws in using the word compliant when it comes to those living with dementia.

Postscript two

Yes, yes, yes I do use the term ‘deliberately non-compliant’ as a badge of honour, wear t-shirts with the phrase boldly blazed across the front of it and carry a phone case with it proudly (in pink) splashed over it. It was used to reflect the opinion of healthcare professionals after I gave a talk about using DIYAPS. 

Back in February, the BMJ published a piece The Grumpy Pumper and I wrote about why language matters when talking about diabetes-related complications. After we submitted the piece, the team at BMJ we were working with asked if we would like to record a podcast to accompany our article. Of course we said yes, because we both like the sound of our own voices. Plus, we figured that we should jump at any opportunity to talk about this subject.

And so, last month while in Europe, we teed up a time and had a fantastic chat with BMJ Patient Editor, Emma Cartwright. Have a listen to us talking about our own experiences of being told about complications, and how the work we’ve been doing has been received in the diabetes community and more broadly.

Thanks so much to the BMJ for having us on this podcast and talking about this important issue. (And thanks to Emma and Duncan for being so patient and accommodating as we wrangled builders who were – it seemed – drilling into the wall right next to where we had organised to do the recording. We may or may not have bribed people to stop drilling for forty minutes so we could get the recording done!)

 

These days, it’s impossible to be at a diabetes conference and not have at least one conversation somewhere about language. Sometimes there are sessions dedicated to the topic on the program, but that wasn’t the case at ATTD a couple of weeks ago – a conference solely devoted to advancements in diabetes technology and treatments.

But despite there not being a session about language, it was still a hot topic. My eagle eye was trained when walking through the exhibition centre for examples where diabetes is misrepresented or the language used stigmatises people living with the condition. And in sessions, I immediately heard terms that suggested that we are misbehaving because the results of treatments aren’t living up to their promise. (A new one: I heard the statement ‘People with diabetes on <therapy> were not performing as expected’ which now makes me think that we are being trained, watched and judged by pageant mums/moms.)

At the Ascensia Diabetes Social Media Summit (more on that another day), there was a discussion about language and diabetes-related complications. This event was a follow on from the one we had at the Australia Diabetes Social Media Summit, and took the initial conversations and expanded it with a new group of PWDs.

Once again, as the discussion unfolded, it was clear to see that the PWD in the room all had experiences where the language they were faced with had impacted negatively and positively. One person commented that early on in their diagnosis, a health professional had addressed diabetes-related complications by saying ‘If you are diagnosed with a diabetes-related complication it will not have been your fault.’ What an empowering way to begin the discussion about complications, care and risk reduction!

I’ve been talking about language for a number of years. Some may call me a one trick pony and, honestly, that’s fine. My appetite for the subject matter has not diminished one bit despite more than a decade of speaking and writing about why language is so important and holds such power.

Language is not a one dimensional issue. Additionally it does not necessarily have a ‘right way’ to do it – especially when looking at it from the perspective of the person living with diabetes. The work I have been involved in has never been about policing the words used by people with diabetes, but rather how words used by others affect us.

It’s why the piece Grumps and I wrote for BMJ  was important – it targeted healthcare professionals, explaining to them why the words and language used around diabetes-related complications needs to not make us feel hopeless. Because that is what can happen and when we feel that way, it is all too easy for diabetes to seem just too big and too hard and too much.

I have frequently written about how diabetes can become so overwhelming, that it can leave us unable to attend to even the most basic and mundane of diabetes management tasks. I myself have been paralysed by the detail and demands of this health condition. I understand that there are times when a conversation about language is not possible, because, quite frankly, there is a lot more to deal with. I know that there have been moments when even though I can hear judgement and blame in the words being directed at me, all I want to do is find a way out of what feels like a hole. I’ve heard others say that they have felt harshly treated by HCPs, but simply didn’t have the capacity to try to deal with that because there were other things higher up on the list.

And I am sure that there are people who simply wouldn’t even know where to begin if the words and language being directed at them were disempowering and negative.

But that is exactly why language matters. It is for the people in those situations – for me when I was in that situation – that we need to get the way we communicate about diabetes right.

I am so sick of people trying to delegitimise the language discussion, or, even worse, reduce it to something that is insignificant. It frustrates me when the discussion returns again and again and again to the diabetic/PWD debate. As I said at the Ascenisa event at ATTD when we were discussing the annoying way some try to redirect meaningful discussion back to this single issue: ‘You can call me Blossom for all I care, language is about far more than this.’

And I think that while it is critical that we acknowledge that sometimes the language issue isn’t going to be a priority for some (by choice or otherwise), it seems unfair – and a little counter-intuitive – to diminish its importance, or criticise those of us trying to keep it on the agenda and actually do something about it.

(Click for original tweet)

DISLCOSURE

I attended the ATTD conference in Berlin. My (economy) airfare and part of my accommodation was covered by DOCLab (I attended an advisory group meeting for DOCLab), and other nights’ accommodation was covered by Roche Global (I attended the Roche Blogger MeetUp). While my travel and accommodation costs have been covered, my words remain all my own and I have not been asked by DOCLab or Roche Global to write about my attendance at their events or any other aspect of the conference. 

Last week, the BMJ published a piece I wrote with the Grumpy Pumper. It was part of their ‘What Your Patient is Thinking’ series which includes stories from people sharing their experiences of living with a variety of health conditions, or using health services.

We wrote about the intersection between language and diabetes-related complications and why language matters so much any time this topic is raised. This is our latest piece on the issue (read the PLAID Journal article here, and something we wrote for diaTribe here). We may appear to be one trick ponies, but it seems the appetite for this issue has not in any way diminished – which is good, because there’s lots more to come! (We’re not one trick ponies – I for one can talk for hours about why the fax machine should be made extinct in healthcare.)

It’s been fascinating – and a little overwhelming – to read the responses to the article after it was shared on a variety of social media platforms at the end of last week, and then again over the weekend. It’s also been heartbreaking when people have told stories about how HCPs have spoken about diabetes-related complications in ways that have had negative effects.

It’s refreshing to see many HCPs (including those from outside the diabetes world) sharing and commenting on the article. Much of what we have written is applicable beyond diabetes. It doesn’t matter what health condition someone is diagnosed with; everyone wants to be treated with kindness and compassion and to not be blamed or shamed.

A couple of HCPs have said that after they read the article, they will now consider changing the way the speak. I love this piece from a CDE in the US who said that she honestly thought the words she was using when discussing diabetes-related complications were reassuring until she read our perspective, and now understands that there are better ways to frame the conversation. We only hope that this will lead to PWD feeling less judged and more supported, and not afraid to talk about what is still a taboo topic for so many.

The diabetes and language landscape is broad. I know that there are many who roll their eyes and say that actually, language doesn’t matter, and perhaps we should be focusing on more pressing issues, but I wonder if they are perhaps focussing on issues that they don’t think are really important.

But there is a lot more to this issue than, for example, the debate between being called ‘a person with diabetes’ or ‘diabetic’ – or if it even matters. Regardless of what the specific issue is, we are hoping is that people understand that words really do matter; they have far-reaching consequences; they determine how people feel about their diabetes; and that the right words have the potential to make people feel better equipped to manage their diabetes as best they possibly can.

Please read the BMJ article – it is freely accessibly – and share it with your networks. If you have diabetes, take a copy to your next HCP appointment and leave it for them to read. The way that we make real, sustainable change is to keep pressing a point, and explain why it is important. Hopefully this piece has gone some way to doing that.

The illustration that was commissioned for the print version of the article. Artist Rose Lloyd did such a great job of getting across the messages in the article!

The other week, as I sat on the stage as part of a panel session at the HIMSS conference in Brisbane, a term kept getting thrown around that had me squirming in my seat. It was not said with any malice – in fact I believe it was being used under the perhaps misguided idea that it is represents positive and empowering language. But as I sat there and the term was being used, almost with abandon, I knew that we were going to have to have a chat about it. As per exhibit A:

Exhibit A

Activated patient? No. Just no.

When the moment was right, I took a breath. I’d been asked to comment on the current My Health Record situation, and whether I thought it was something that would benefit people living with chronic health conditions. ‘Before I answer the question, can we just consider the term ‘activated patient’ and how it is being used here today – and often in other contexts too. I’ve heard from people on the stage and in the audience use the term ‘activated patients’. I’m really not a fan of this term. In fact, I think it is really quite problematic.’

Activation is something that is done to something. Think Pete Evans and his activated nuts. Or yeast when making bread or cinnamon buns. Or my pink debit card that came in the mail with a sticker across the front telling me how to activate it. Pete Evans’ almonds were just passive little nuts before he decided to activate them. And before the warm water was added to the yeast, it was just powder sitting in a sachet. My pink card was simply a piece of plastic before I called a number, pressed a few other numbers once the automated message was played and agreed to a heap of terms and conditions, making the card able to work.

Those inanimate objects had something done to them to become activated – it didn’t happen on their own. Beforehand, they were passive.

I was not ‘activated’ to become a participant in my own healthcare. I was not given permission to lead the agenda of how I want to engage. I chose the people I would see; the health service I would use; the devices I wear strapped to me. I have never been a passive participant in my healthcare – or any other aspect of my life, for that matter. I have always been active. Of course there are times that I struggle with motivation and may be less active and pro-active, but getting out of those times was never an exercise in activation by others.

The idea that people become activated because they are given the opportunity reeks of the typical paternalistic attitudes that are still rife in healthcare.

Look, we can have a long discussion about the ‘consumerisation’ of healthcare, and how that is what is to blame for terms such as this. It is business lingo and while many think it probably refers to people being in charge of their health, it actually suggests the opposite.

Words that suggest something is being ‘done’ to a person utilising the health system are not empowering. They are not putting the person at the centre. They don’t indicate that the person is driving their care.

The term ‘activated patients’ provides a narrow interpretation about how a person is in charge of their healthcare, because it always is used to highlight people who are loud advocates for themselves, walking into every appointment with a list the length of their arm of things to discuss, therapies they want to use. But not everyone wants to do healthcare that way. Just because someone prefers – and chooses – to have a healthcare professional drive the direction of their care does not necessarily mean they are not ‘activated’.

Also – consider this: if a person can become an ‘activated patient’, that means there must also avenues for them to become a ‘deactivated patient’. That’s certainly not being person-centred. In fact, suggesting that we become something only because we have been given the right to be that way is the opposite of person-centred.

I’m still playing catch up on the goings on at EASD. It was such a busy conference – in general and for me personally – that my head is still lost in a lot of what happened and what I saw. It’s somewhat frustrating for me because diabetes conferences are seen as an opportunity for so many meetings of different groups and projects I’m involved in, and that means I don’t get to anywhere near the number of sessions I would like to. When I can, I make sure I live tweet my way through (that’s how I take notes to do write ups later), but this conference was so busy that there was very limited time for that.

But I still did get to see a lot thanks to the satellite events I was invited to and asked to speak at. Plus, this year at EASD, I was involved in something new that was super exciting.

DZD meets #DEDOC was a novel session combining young researchers and (not necessarily young) people with diabetes to give different perspectives on a variety of current research programs. The event was presented by Deutsches Zentrum für Diabetesforschung.

(My  very limited German (i.e. I sang in St Matthew’s Passionat University – badly – and was in the orchestra for a German-language version of Threepenny Opera, or rather, Die Dreigroschenoper) is apparently good enough to translate that as the Diabetes Centre for Diabetes Research – so, I guess I’m almost bi-lingual now.)

Bastian Hauck hosted the event and was involved in the project to nominate PWD to speak at the event, and encourage other PWD who were at EASD to come along and listen. This was Bastian doing what he does best – facilitate discussion and encourage engagement by different stakeholders. He always manages to ask questions that get people thinking in different ways and did a stellar job again in this event.

The session was not designed as an excuse for PWD to be critical of the research and researchers, or to find fault in what they were doing. It was not to query the merits of the research either. It was to give the researchers an opportunity to speak about their work (in a rapid fire, five minute pitch), and for PWD to engage in that discussion, asking questions and explaining the relevance of the research to actually living with diabetes. While the project may not have actually come directly from PWD, it was a true collaboration where researchers spoke of what drives them, and we shared what we hope from science.

So, what research was on show?

Firstly, we had Dr Stefan Kabisch speaking about research which compared dietary prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes with two different interventions: one low carb and one low fat. Cathy van de Mortelewas the PWD involved in this segment of the session,  and we couldn’t help but have a little giggle that she had been selected. Those who know Cathy know she is anincredible baker and cook. Her creations are magical and if I lived in Belgium, I would be at her place for dinner three nights a week. But low carb and low fat? Not so much! However, she did give a really useful perspective on the need to remember that different eating plans need to be sustainable and what works for one person may not work for another.

Secondly, Dr Carolin Danielspoke about her research in type 1 diabetes prevention vaccines. Dr Katarina Braune stepped in as the PWD (she is also a researcher and endo) to give her comments on the research. It was interesting hearing Katarina, because she comes from the perspective of a scientist as well as a PWD, so her considerations were different to other PWD who spoke. Her questions and comments incorporated the scientific as much as the ‘real life’, and I loved the way she was able to so succinctly and eloquently translate it all so it made sense to someone like me without a scientific bone in my body!

And finally, Dr Julia Szendrödispoke about diabetes-related complications. While the research was specifically about the mechanisms in the development of complications, as well as looking at potential interventions, I was invited to be the PWD in this discussion to lend my language focus. I highlighted how conversations about diabetes-related complications need to be without judgement and stigma, and that at all times, remember that although a single body part may be in question when speaking about a specific complication, it is attached to a person with a whole body and mind that must also be considered.

To be honest, I felt that my comments were almost redundant because Julia did such a beautiful job in her five minute explanation of her work of ensuring that there was no blaming or shaming. I thanked her for this because the language in pretty much every other discussion of complications I had seen that week was not all that palatable!

I love the idea of including PWD to shape diabetes research. And I loved the discussion at EASD. It was an excellent example of how to include PWD in discussions – even highly scientific discussions. And just how easily it can be done!

This event was the first one, but hopefully the organisers have seen the value of conversation-based sessions including different stakeholders. It would be great for events such as this to attract even more attendees – researchers, HCPs and PWD – although a huge thanks to the German PWD contingent who was there, flying the advocate flag and supporting us – and to see them on the main program of the conference.

DISCLOSURE

I was invited to provide my perspective at the DZD meets #DEDOC presented by Deutsches Zentrum für Diabetesforschung. I did not receive any payment to speak at the session. Thanks to Bastian Hauck from DEDOC (the German Diabetes Online Community) for involving me!

Roche Diabetes Care (Global) covered my (economy) travel and accommodation costs to attend their #DiabetesMeetup Blogger event at #EASD2018 and present at their media event the day before EASD. Roche Diabetes Care also assisted with providing me press registration to attend all areas of the EASD meeting.

Trending on Twitter at the moment is a hashtag that is getting a lot of attention (obviously: it’s trending).

The hashtag is #DoctorsAreDickheads.

Has it got people’s attention? Yep.

Is it inflammatory? You bet.

And it needs to be.

The shitty thing is that sometimes it takes a loud, brash moment like this for people to sit up and listen. Lousy experiences in healthcare are not isolated experiences. Not being listened to; not being believed; being dismissed; being belittled; experiencing doctor bias – these are all real. These happen frequently.

In diabetes, we hear this from the point of (mis)diagnosis right through to people who have lived with diabetes for decades. How many people were sent away from the doctor being told their symptoms where nothing? How many parents were told they were over-reacting when they repeatedly took their thirsty, constantly peeing, losing weight child to the GP? How many of us are blamed instead of helped when we start to develop complications?  Almost every single person with diabetes I have spoken has a terrible tale to share.

Hashtags like this, which often then become ‘movements’, come about for one simple reason: people are hurting and need to be heard. They don’t happen because an individual has a grudge directed at one other person. They happen, and become magnified, because there is clearly a systematic issue somewhere. One single person may start the discussion, but others see their own experiences reflected in what others are saying and join in the discussion.

Also, hashtags like this don’t happen as a first line of attack. Often, people have tried every other angle: they have tried to reason, asked to be heard, searched for someone they hope will be more sympathetic, used the system in place – the system that is meant to protect them, followed protocols for making complaints when things go wrong, written quiet pieces on their own blogs or in closed community groups in a hope that someone – anyone – will listen. They have tried being polite, quiet, compliant.

Yet they don’t feel heard.

Unsurprisingly, there have been parallels drawn between #DoctorsAreDickheads and #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. And in exactly as the response to #MeToo became #NotAllMen, and #BlackLivesMatter became #AllLivesMatter, predictably we are seeing #NotAllDoctors.

Suddenly the reason behind the discussion is hijacked. Doctors become defensive; others jump to their defence. And the stories of those who have been hurt, who continue to be hurt, who have sometimes had their lives turned on their head, start to get lost.

The right response to this hashtag is to listen. It is not to turn it around and defend yourself or start to attack those who are sharing their personal stories. It is not to be self-justifying. It is not protect your own interests. It is not to accuse the people sharing their stories as being aggressive, nasty, offensive, attention-seeking or confrontational.

It is to stay silent and listen. It’s to let the discomfort wash over you, surround you, move in and almost suffocate you while you remain quiet and listen.

Listen to the people who have had these horrible experiences. Recognise there is a power imbalance between medical care givers and receivers. Understand how vulnerable some people are when they are sharing their stories – and how vulnerable they were when they were let down by their doctors. And accept that the anger on show is completely and utterly understandable.

Personally, I have had some horrid experiences with doctors. Of course I’ve had some incredibly positive and empowering experiences. I have nothing but the highest regard for my own healthcare team and so many of the HCPs I am lucky to work with as part of my job. I named my kid after my endo because I honestly think that her care and expertise and compassion are part of the reason that I have an amazing teenager accompanying me in my life these days. But this isn’t about celebrating those moments.

It’s about the ones that left me feeling hopeless.

Some I’ve documented on my blog, others I feel I am still too traumatised to talk about. I have felt belittled, delegitimised, stigmatised and made to feel like a fool, a hypochondriac, a trouble maker, an attention seeker by doctors in the past. And I am a confident, educated, Bolshy advocate who understands the system. Imagine for a moment those who don’t, because we’re not hearing from them. Yet.

For every single person using the #DoctorsAreDickheads hashtag on twitter as they share their experience, there are dozens who are not doing that. It is not a loud minority who are being rabble-rousers. What we have seen in the last day or so is just the start.

Could it have been more nuanced? Maybe. Someone suggested that a better option would have been #DoctorsBeBetter, but I guarantee that those who are up in arms about this hashtag would still be crying #NotAllDoctors even if there wasn’t the profanity contained within the current hashtag.

And finally, I have a plea here. Please, do not invoke the #LanguageMatters movement as part of this discussion. Language matters – at least the way that I see it and have been working at for almost a decade now – is about ensuring that the language used when speaking to and about people with diabetes empowers and supports us.

If we want to add a language focus to this discussion it’s this: stop policing the language that ‘patients’ use. In the same way it’s not up to healthcare professionals to tell people with diabetes the language to use when speaking about our own diabetes, it is not for the medical community to tell the ‘patient’ community to tone it down or use different words when we are telling our own stories. We will use the words that resonate with us, within us, amongst us. Because these are our stories. And it’s time, and we deserve, for them – for us – to be heard.

I’m heading to Sydney this morning (it’s early…too early) for the Australasian Diabetes Advancements and Technologies Summit – ADATS, (follow along at #ADATS2018), which had me thinking about the conference last year where I spoke about Loop, scared a shitload of HCPs, was almost traumatised into never speaking again in public (almost – didn’t happen) and was happy to be branded non-compliant.

Today will be a far gentler experience – my role is as a member of the organising committee, and as a session chair. Surely no one will want to sue me for that. Right?

As I ponder that, and reminisce about last year’s talk, here are some links. So many links that I have been wanting to share. So, have a cuppa, have a read, and share stuff.

Also, being deliberately non-compliant is kind of fun…

(Disclosure first: My flights from Melbourne to Sydney are being covered by the National Association of Diabetes Centres (NADC), the organisers of ADATS. I am on the organising committee for the conference.)

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Finally DIYAPS makes it to the mainstream media in Aus

I’d heard of The Saturday Paper, (which was a surprise to the journalist who interviewed me), but apparently not all that many people have. It’s a weekly newspaper (somewhat unimaginatively named – it’s a paper and comes out each Saturday) with long-form articles. One of those articles was about DIYAPS and came about after journalist Michele Tyde heard about the Diabetes Australia DIYAPS Position Statement.

Read the article here.

Read the DIYAPS Position Statement here.

The body part is connected to the PWD

‘Talking about the “diabetic foot,” the “diabetic kidney,” or the “diabetic eye” suggests they are somehow separate from the person whose body actually hosts the diabetes. This language suggests the diabetes-complicated body part is more like a malfunctioning car part that needs service – if only we could be provided with a courtesy foot, eye, or kidney to use until our own is better!’

The language at ADA this year (all the way back in June…all the way over in Orlando) didn’t really set off too many alarm bells. Until we had a good look at the program. I wrote this piece with The Grumpy Pumper for diaTribe about how it seems that #LanguageMatters a whole load less when talking about diabetes-related complications…and that needs to change.

Conference blogs

It’s great to see the Ascensia Diabetes Care team continue to support diabetes bloggers by inviting them to write up their thoughts on diabetes conferences. The latest contribution is from Sascha Stiefeling (who blogs at Sugar Tweaks) where he gives some insights into the start of EASD. (It was written in German and translated into English.)

Oh – and here’s the post I wrote for them about the Australasian Diabetes Congress a couple of months ago. (I was not paid to write this, or supported by Ascensia to attend, but I did work with them on their Social Media Summit.) 

No weakness at all

On Mental Health Awareness Day this year, UK writer and poet David Gilbert wrote this beautiful post about the strength – not weakness – of living with mental illness.

How we are wrong about obesity

This piece about obesity is a must read. It talks about how weight bias from healthcare professionals and stigma often results in higher weight people avoiding going to the doctor because they fear discrimination, not being believed and being shamed.

More on weight stigma

And read this piece (also on diaTribe) about how weight stigma hurts people and affects health outcomes.

Keep Sight

This week, Diabetes Australia officially launched the first ever national eye screening program, Keep Sight. The program will make it easier for Aussies with diabetes to get their eyes checked. You can read about the program here (from when it was announced back in July).

Disclosure: I work at Diabetes Australia, but was not asked to write about this program. I’m doing so because it is important.

Your story is important

True champion of listening to ‘the patient’, Marie Ennis-O’Connor wrote this wonderful piece about the power of storytelling in healthcare.

Always be kind

I’m always fascinated to read stories from HCPs who write about their experiences on the other side of healthcare. Moving from care-giver to the one needing care can be life-changing. In this BMJ Opinion piece, health researcher Maria Kristiansen writes about how important compassion and kindness from healthcare professionals were for her and her family during her young son’s illness and death.

More on kindness (because we can never have enough)

The first sentence of this article in BMJ by Dr John Launer had me hooked: ‘I’m not a clever doctor, but I’m a kind one’. Have a read.

Diabetes in hospital

I know I’m not the only one to be terrified of needing to go into hospital, worrying about a lack of knowledge about type 1 diabetes treatment and my technology, and having to fight to maintain ownership of my own diabetes care. Adam Brown at diaTribe has written about his recent trip to A&E, surgery and subsequent recovery after his appendix ruptured. Lots of great tips for anyone who may wind up in hospital.

Digital diabetes

How can digital medicine and research, and artificial intelligence transform diabetes? That’s the question research scientist in diabetes, Dr Guy Fagherazzi, asks in his (open source) review in Science Direct that you can read here.

Bake these!

And finally…It’s nearly the weekend and if you have a spare 20 minutes, you really, really should think about baking these! They are crackled parcels of molasses, spice and all things nice and are, quite possibly, one of the best things I’ve ever baked.

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