Secret to Health

As readers know, the focus of my work has been to develop programs and tools to improve healthcare communication and quality of care. In an essay by primary care physician Dr. Rebecca Ann Levine, she describes her approach to opening conversations with older patients to learn what they believe is important in maintaining good health (Levine, RA, What Is Your Secret to Health? Journal of the American Medical Association Cardiology, January 31, 2024). She asks, “What is your secret to health?” as a way of understanding what matters most to her aging patients.


I find Dr. Levine’s approach an effective way to prompt discussions about what older patients believe are factors for a healthy lifestyle. Her question also serves as a tool to identify obstacles (medical, psycho-social and economic) that could interfere with fulfilling quality of life goals. I can also see Dr. Levine’s patient-centered conversations more likely to result in compliance to medical recommendations connected to achieving a patient’s definition of health and well-being.


Once again, communication is key. But it often takes clinicians willing to go beyond the usual medical checklist by opening a door for more personal and meaningful conversations. Notwithstanding pressure imposed by healthcare insurers about time management, Dr. Levine is committed to asking her older patients, “What is your secret to health?”


For me, the purpose of SpeakSooner: A Patient’s Guide to Difficult Conversations has been to help patients facing serious illness identify and express their questions and concerns to healthcare providers. This, too, can lead to meeting quality of life goals. For example, the guide has empowered some patients to express frustration about cancer treatment fatigue preventing participation in meaningful activities. Through opening conversations with cancer clinicians about the impact of fatigue on their lives, it was possible to adjust or skip treatments to allow for more physical activities, whether to do tasks at home or travel. In these instances, there was improved physical and psychological quality of life, at least for a period of time.


I’m pleased to be on the same page as Dr. Levine when it comes to understanding how the use of personalized prompts can increase patient engagement and help in planning of care.