Patient Engagement

What We’re Reading: When Breath Becomes Air

Article · June 15, 2016

If you’re like me, you didn’t do all the assigned reading in your medical humanities course as a first-year medical student. We were busy, plus we already knew how to be human. What we didn’t know was how to be doctors.

When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi gives us — now doctors — a chance to make it right again when it comes to that reading list. Paul, as we come to know him, is a neurosurgical chief resident at Stanford when he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. What follows is the story of his diagnosis and his too-early death. And no, I didn’t just ruin the story for you. It would be hard not to know that Dr. Kalanithi succumbs to his illness given the esteemed profile of his life and his memoir. But knowing the end of the story makes this story better. It means we as readers can grasp the magnitude of the experience from the first page and admire how Paul prepares himself, his family, and the rest of us for the ending.

Caring for patients is the greatest privilege of any physician’s life, yet for every called code, every devastating head injury, and every terminal rhythm, I’ve taken comfort in one fact: I’m not the patient. Dr. Kalanithi reminds us that someday we will be that patient, and our plans in the meantime are just that: plans. Imagining ourselves as patients, even for but a moment, may help us be better doctors, and Dr. Kalanithi’s story insists we do just that.

New call for submissions ­to NEJM Catalyst

Now inviting longform articles

Connect

A weekly email newsletter featuring the latest actionable ideas and practical innovations from NEJM Catalyst.

Learn More »

More From Patient Engagement
Health Care Can Learn a Lot from Other Consumer-Facing Industries - Especially About Customer Service - Consumerization of Health Care

Patient Engagement Survey: Health Care Has a Lot to Learn from Consumer-Friendly Industries

The consumerization of health care continues to reshape the way that patients engage with providers and experience care. Most providers see this fundamental change in the health care model as a necessary response to changing patient demands, and have embraced the need to learn from other industries.

Bilazarian01_pullquote patient engagement both sides of the bed

Patient Engagement from Both Sides of the Bed

When patients and families are included in medical rounds as valued members of the team, the quality of care improves.

Ten Guiding Principles for Patient-Centered Care as Described by Mountain States Health Alliance to consider with patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR)

Complementary Approaches to Patient Engagement in Patient-Centered Outcomes Research

It’s important for providers to understand and apply the key principles foundational to patient-centered outcomes research efforts.

Selected Advantages of Improved Patient Electronic Access to Health Data

Patient-Led Data Sharing — A New Paradigm for Electronic Health Data

The pieces are in place for a truly disruptive shift in how patients can access and use their own clinical data to improve their health.

Collapse of Two Online Health Communities as Result of Removal of Users Starting from Superusers

Online “Superusers” as Allies of the Health Care Workforce

Three proposed steps for integrating peer-driven online health communities with traditional services to improve health outcomes for people with chronic conditions.

The PEACE Project - Patient Experience for Acute Care Elders at Sarasota Memorial Hospital

The PEACE Project

Improving the acute care experience for our eldest patients.

Rabson01_pullquote barriers to patient engagement in primary care practices

What Does It Take to Increase Patient Engagement in Primary Care Settings?

Massachusetts primary care practices are beginning to invest in programs to increase patient engagement, but these strategies can be challenging to implement and remain underutilized and undervalued.

Many Barriers to Engaging Patients in Treatment for Obesity

Survey Snapshot: Approaches to Address Clinician and Societal Roles in Obesity

The obesity problem is getting larger and larger. Some solutions lie beyond the traditional medical setting.

Esch01_pullquote patient activation

OpenNotes, Patient Narratives, and Their Transformative Effects on Patient-Centered Care

The development of standardized tools and techniques are enhancing the ability of providers to interact with patients, but true patient engagement requires a common understanding of its theoretical foundation and an open mind for including patients’ needs and beliefs — in their language — as part of each encounter.

Patients and PCPs Hold Primary Responsibility for Addressing Obesity

Patient Engagement Survey: The Failure of Obesity Efforts and the Collective Nature of Solutions

Patients hold responsibility for their actions, but providers’ approaches to address obesity often fall short as well.

Connect

A weekly email newsletter featuring the latest actionable ideas and practical innovations from NEJM Catalyst.

Learn More »

Topics

A Teledermatology Initiative to Increase Access…

A group of seven community health centers in Massachusetts collaborated to implement a teledermatology program…

Patients As Customers

125 Articles

Patient Engagement Survey: Health Care Has…

The consumerization of health care continues to reshape the way that patients engage with providers…

Patient-Centered Care

248 Articles

Patient Engagement Survey: Health Care Has…

The consumerization of health care continues to reshape the way that patients engage with providers…

Insights Council

Have a voice. Join other health care leaders effecting change, shaping tomorrow.

Apply Now