Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

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Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

The American Cancer Society

More on Katrina: Create a personal health record

by Dr. Len September 09, 2005

In a conversation this morning with one of my colleagues from our Mid-South Division at the American Cancer Society, we were discussing the types of questions and answers that would be helpful for cancer patients affected by Katrina.


We spent some time thinking about the typical FAQs (frequently asked questions), but then we turned to the fact that people are finding themselves in different circumstances at different times in different locations.  And the scenarios may be changing rapidly.


One of the difficult things for patients to do in the best of times is keep track of their medical information.  We have all had the experience of going from doctor to doctor and repeating the same information time and again.  Think about how much more difficult the situation can be when you have a serious medical problem, are currently undergoing treatment, need to find medical care, and then tell your story over and over to different health care providers.  It doesn’t take much imagination to realize this can be one more barrier and burden for people in need.


As we were considering how to address this problem, both my colleague and I thought of a web based tool called the iHealthRecord, available at www.ihealthrecord.org.  Operated by a company called Medem (which is funded through a number of sources including the American Medical Association and other state and national medical organizations), the iHealthRecord is completed by the patient and includes a complete medical record. The patient “owns” the record, and they can provide a keyword to the doctor or other health care professional that will permit that provider to access the record online through the same website for a specific period of time.  The patient can also keep the record updated, which in practical terms allows them to change their address and phone number as the situation dictates, a potentially important consideration as a person moves quickly from place to place.


What this means is that as a person visits a doctor, a medical center, an emergency room or any other health care site or provider, the record can be accessed and printed immediately off the internet at the point of care.


There are a couple a cautions, however.  First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I sit on a board affiliated with the iHealthRecord.  More importantly, although the Medem folks have done everything they can to assure privacy of the information, concerns have been raised in other quarters as to the potential privacy issues that are associated with any similar type of online process that records personal medical information.  It should be emphasized, however, that this record is the “property” of the patient and the information will not be used by anyone other than the patient.  Finally, want to emphasize that these are personal comments, and the iHealthRecord is not endorsed or supported by the American Cancer Society.


Sometimes in times of need such as we are currently facing, we find there are tools available that can possibly be a real help.  These past two weeks should provide a lesson for those of us not immediately affected by the hurricane that keeping an updated, personal medical record can be very important, particularly in unexpected situations such as we currently find ourselves.  Whether that record is on line, on a computer or a piece of paper, it’s good advice to keep track of your basic health history in your possession so you have the information when you and those caring for you need it most.

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Thoughts on Katrina: We can help

by Dr. Len September 09, 2005

For the past several weeks, as my colleagues have been working on some of the technical aspects of getting this blog “up and running,” I thought of several different topics for my first discussion.


But all of those thoughts paled in comparison to the devastation and tragedy Katrina brought to our shores last week.


I suspect, like me, you were struck numb by the tragedy.  I will confess to moments of intense sadness as I contemplated the extent of the personal toll, and the burdens that were suddenly cast on our families, friends and colleagues.


Being an optimist, I believe that people are resilient and are already working on getting their lives together and returning to at least some semblance of normality.  The outpouring of concern and help—financial and otherwise—is testament to how we support each other in times of dire need.


Here at the American Cancer Society, we knew that patients, families, caregivers and health care professionals would turn to us for help.  My colleagues (especially those in our Health Promotions and Corporate Communications Departments) at the National Home Office in Atlanta and Austin, TX worked tirelessly to assemble information resources.  Our National Cancer Information Center based in Austin already was available 24/7, and our cancer information specialists were briefed and provided the necessary tools to help in the immediate aftermath of the storm.


If you are a patient with cancer, caring for a patient with cancer, a health professional or anyone who needs help dealing with a cancer-related problem, please call us at 800-ACS-2345, or go our designated Katrina web site at www.cancer.org/katrina.  There, you will find resources listed with the most up-to-date information we have.  We remain in regular contact with a number of friends and other organizations to find resources that may be available for you. 


If you are a doctor or health care professional who wants to let us know where you have relocated, contact us and we will keep the information on file and provide it to your patients when they call us.  If you are a patient, we will record your information as well, including the name of your doctor.  We recognized early in this process that perhaps one of the most important services we could provide would be to match patients and their doctors, who have the important information about diagnoses, medications and treatment protocols.


The American Cancer Society family is nationwide, and many of us were concerned about our colleagues who were caught in the midst of Katrina’s savagery.  No sooner than they had secured their own personal situations, our friends in the Mid-South Division, which covers Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, had gone to work to address the needs of the people in their communities.  Our High Plains Division based in Austin, TX became involved in the immediate care and counseling of evacuees who had traveled to Texas.  And, as the evacuees spread across the country, all of our divisions either are or will become involved in helping those in need.


I am proud to be part of a team that put so much effort into helping the victims of Katrina.  But I’m certain all of us here at the Society want you to know that we are here for you.  Call us, check out our information on the website, and always know we are always available, especially in this time of special need.

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Welcome to My Blog

by Dr. Len September 09, 2005

I thought it might be worthwhile for me to provide some information about my background to put this blog into some perspective.


I am currently the deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, and work from the Society’s national home office in Atlanta, GA. 


In my usual daily activity, I manage the Cancer Control Science Department at ACS.  I have the privilege of working with several highly qualified professionals whose primary responsibilities include the development of the Society’s well known and widely respected guidelines for the prevention and early detection of cancer. 


In my role as deputy chief medical officer, I interact with many parts of our organization including other departments here at our national home office as well as our divisions throughout the United States.  Sometimes my contribution can be as simple as providing some advice or background on a particular issue, or as complex as counseling  someone who has cancer as to what their treatment options may be or helping them understand some of the medical information they have been provided by their physicians.  I also represent the Society in other settings, including projects and programs we conduct with “outside” organizations.


My professional activities before I joined the Society in 2001 included 19 years as a practicing physician in Baltimore, MD.  I started my medical career as an oncologist (at that time, we were one of the first private oncology practices in the area where chemotherapy was given to patients in the office), and then decided to change my focus to primary care internal medicine.  I made this decision in no small part because I felt that much more could be done to prevent many diseases rather than treating them once they had been diagnosed.


I have been fortunate during my career to have worked in a variety of other activities as an employee or volunteer.  These experiences have provided me with a broad and somewhat unique overview of medicine and health care related issues. 


For example, I have a long-standing interest in health and public policy issues. For many years, I have participated in legislative and regulatory activities on a state and federal level on behalf of various state and national medical organizations. I remain active in several medical societies, and currently sit on a committee that helps to set the national Medicare physician fee schedule.  I have worked with many media outlets in the past, and currently provide information to reporters about cancer-related matters on behalf of the American Cancer Society. 


My goal through these interactions has been to take complicated medical issues and reports and translate them into something that (hopefully) is more understandable and practical.  I also try to put information into a realistic perspective, and do my best to avoid the “hope and hype” cycle that characterizes so much medical reporting aimed at the general public.


This blog represents one more facet of that effort.  I anticipate covering a variety of topics that are of interest, including scientific reports and advances, issues that face cancer patients and their families, and where I see the larger picture of cancer diagnosis and treatment today and in the future, among others.  I hope the information useful and informative, and that you find these insights engaging and thoughtful.

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About Dr. Len

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP - Dr. Lichtenfeld is Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society.