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Helping Hands Connect Partners From Afar

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Partnerships produce profits professionally and personally. By far, they offer better results than going it alone.

“I’m busy connecting, organizing and collaborating,” said Dr. Helen Madamba, an obstetrics-gynecology infectious disease specialist at Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City. the Philippines, and an HIV advocate.

“It’s not easy to be a people person,” she said. “You have to cultivate your patience, tolerance and the skill to make people comfortable. It’s a habit you develop and improve every day you meet new people.”

This is a load for any person, setting up Madamba and others like her as candidates for burnout. The smart professionals – again, like Madamba – keep partnerships in their pockets.

“I’ve learned how to be kind to strangers and how to connect with people who are different from you,” Madamba said. “Based on the connectivist theory, you learn in the digital age not just within the individual but within and across networks. 

“Connectivism sees knowledge as a network and learning as a process of pattern recognition,” she said. “This process of building communities online has taught me how to effectively build communities offline.”

Many of her colleagues worldwide have experience building partnerships and collaborating with other groups for health-related goals.

“In the United States, people are very territorial,” said healthcare professional and lecturer Yinka Vidal. “Explosion happens if you step into their area. Get the approval of the hospital CEO first. Then cconnecting with other hospital departments may be easier.

“Your strategy may work well in academic institutions and in government hospitals,” he said. “However, in corporate America — without mutual benefits where people try to out shine each other — many problems will emerge to hinder progress.”

Open hands do not automatically get accepted.

“Not all good suggestions are welcomed by those in power,” Vidal said. “Thread carefully. The pathway to pink slips is paved with good intentions. In a general hospital system, things may be better. In corporate America, it’s a different ballgame.

“Certain people within the corporation believe system design has to come from the top,” he said. “Otherwise, any attempt by front-line workers may be considered a violation.”

When trying to form partnerships, control can be a factor.

Bunny Max Sandra Woods
Sandra Woods

“From my experience working on medical errors across U.S hospitals, the greatest obstacle is the ‘political power’ that controls the administrative system,” Vidal said. “I also learned from system redesign that effective system design comes from the front-line workers through collaboration, not from the CEO sitting in the office.

“Physicians and other healthcare workers have been fired for daring to want to improve the system of operation within the hospital system,” he said. “You will hear this statement: Who gives you the authority?”

Sandra Woods offered her perspective from what she started in biomedical ethics almost 20 years ago and during the last two years as a patient for chronic pain and a rare disease.

“In the mid-2000s, I had to use a combination of fax, phone calls and email to plan anything,” she said. “That was because some folks weren’t really using email, and there was no social media — or smartphones, apps…

“I worked at a university-hospital research center in cancer epidemiology and biostats,” Woods said. “I got permission to use a seminar room once a month. I organized informal seminars on bioethics across all affiliated hospitals. It was a chance to bounce ideas off each other and discuss hardest cases.”

More than 10 years ago, she started blogging about bioethics, to raise awareness and share with others. 

“The platform was horrible,” Woods said. “I lost everything a few years ago. I’m rebuilding now.”

Educator and researcher Dr. Jerome Cleofas has collaborated several times, including with groups related to performance arts.

“There are art groups willing to share their talents to raise awareness and funds for health-related causes,” he said. “For example, together with SoundCloudPH, an online group of Filipino musicians, we have conducted a concert to raise funds for an HIV-related organization.

“Also, two spoken-word collectives — Words Anonymous and my group, CollaboratoryPH — held a show to raise awareness on mental health and funds for Youth for Mental Health Coalition,” Cleofas said. “These are interest groups of artists — musicians, poets and so on — who usually have professional day jobs. They use their talents to volunteer for events with causes, some of which are related to health.”

Sleep specialist Patrick Moral recommends identifying strengths and offering them to organizations.

“In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, I used my creative works to raise funds for a group well entrenched in the areas that needed health access the most,” he said. “These are the cogs that turn the wheels of grand plans. The small yet specific acts of individual contributors help achieve the general objectives of an organization.

“Certain issues in the Philippines do not get support for distributions,” Moral said. “We were able to discuss ethics with over 3,000 health practitioners. We rode on a company’s lecture schedule and offered it as an add on.”

Clinical research professional Katy Hanlon appreciates the little things.

“It is sometimes the small goals that bring about the strongest patient impact and partnerships,” she said.

“I worked as a mental health peer specialist to work across disciplines to make a special event for a group of women with serious mental illness,” Hanlon said. “I will never forget their joy.”

Endocrinologist Dr. Iris Thiele Isip Tan learned to work with teams in training. 

“The Philippines General Hospital has the Diabetes Extremity Care Team composed of endocrinology, anesthesiology, orthopedics, rehabilitation, vascular and infectious disease,” she said. “Care of diabetic feet is multidisciplinary.

“My other field of interest, health informatics, brings together people of different backgrounds: health, computer science, bio stat, policy and so on,” Tan said.

The providers like the benefits and challenges of working together toward one health-related goal.

“I treasure the variety of perspectives,” said epidemiology teacher and healthcare researcher Dr. Jaifred F. “Jim” Lopez. “When we solve problems, we often do so through ways we are used to. Partnerships improve our problem solving because involving others will allow us to look at different angles. The problem gets solved sooner.

“This variety is much a challenge as it is a benefit,” he said. “This is why we always need to ensure respect and foster creativity.”

Cleofas is grateful when the whole is greater than the parts.

“The main benefit of collaborations is the pooling and maximization of available manpower and resources,” he said. “The access to resources and talents that you need but lack — and the other party can provide — makes efforts and outputs effective.

“The main challenge is having to deal with differences of the groups involved, negotiating the deliverables and making sure everyone gets their end of the deal,” Cleofas said. “Expectation setting and proper communication can address this.”

That brought him back to his artistic side.

“Specifically, in working with art groups, the main benefit is that the joint activities related to health gets a different flavor,” Cleofas said. “The aesthetic and affective component of achieving health-related goals are also explored.”

Hanlon said collaborators having one goal is the key.

“If you focus on one goal, you can then look to common stakeholders and key opinion leaders across specialties,” she said. “One goal is unifying.”

Woods recalled her own partnership challenges:

  • Timing and availability of people.
  • Different time zones.
  • Some people prefer conferring during-work hours, some before or after work.

“The benefits include sharing knowledge along with support among professionals,” Woods said. “I’m involved with end-of-life planning and discussions. It’s good to lean on a group.

“As a relatively recent rare-disease patient and advocate, I rely heavily on social media for complex regional pain syndrome and chronic pain awareness-raising,” she said. “I’m trying to help future patients.”

For that, she cited the article, “Chronic Diseases in the European Union: The Prevalence and Health Cost Implications of Chronic Pain.”

“The trick though is to be invested in the goal,” Moral said. “If one is not, he or she may jump off the track, especially if the one taken is something that has no particular attraction. People need to be kept on the train.”

For more pros and cons of building partnerships, Tan noted the New York Times article, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.”

In the modern world, social media plays an important role in building partnerships for health.

Textbook of Medicine Sandra Woods
Sandra Woods

“Communication is key to a good collaboration,” Cleofas said. “Social media provides tools to facilitate this: Facebook groups, Twitter chats, events pages, project-management sites and apps.

“Social media makes it easier for you to find and contact a group you need to collaborate with for a certain project,” he said. “The fun part is that, after the projects, you can maintain connections and friendships online and off.”

Lopez has taken advantage of social media’s worldwide reach.

“Because of that, I was able to contact people I never imagined I would be able to rub elbows with,” he said. “It’s empowering.”

Not to be overlooked are social media’s financial benefits.

“I found a partner as part of a federal grant application submission via social media,” Hanlon said. “He was an expert in the use of Twitter and youth with serious mental illness. 

“We communicated in online meeting rooms, Twitter and by phone,” she said. “We got the grant.”

Woods’ partnerships have a sobering effect.

“I’m involved with a group called the Conversation Project,” she said. “We encourage people to have conversations about end-of-life wishes — while still healthy — to break taboo. We still have teleconferences for partners because of the sensitive nature of the topic.”

For rare-disease patient advocacy, Woods uses a mix of several means of communication:

  • One on one, face-to-face with her cycling buddy and bunny, Max.
  • Art and photos.
  • Conferences and meetings as an attendee.
  • Social media.
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Jim Katzaman
Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services. A writer by trade, he graduated from Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He enlisted in the Air Force and served for 25 years in public affairs – better known in the civilian world as public relations. He also earned an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Public Affairs. Since retiring, he has been a consultant and in the federal General Service as a public affairs specialist. He also acquired life and health insurance licenses, which resulted in his present affiliation with Largo Financial Services. In addition to expertise in financial affairs, he gathers the majority of his story content from Twitter chats. This has led him to publish about a wide range of topics such as social media, marketing, sexual harassment, workplace trends, productivity and financial management. Medium has named him a top writer in social media.

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