April 26, 2021
With a smile that lights up the room and a friendly confidence that engenders trust in those he encounters, Patrick Gee, PhD, JLC, has spent his life advocating for the health and well-being of others. As an individual who has experienced chronic kidney disease (CKD), Patrick uses his voice to stand up for those without a voice, particularly among disenfranchised communities of color. He serves as a patient advocate for a number of national organizations, including American Association of Kidney Patients, iAdvocate, and the National Kidney Fund, and shares his patient experience as a tool for educating, inspiring, and leading. He has won numerous awards and recognition for his service within the medical community. HCIF is fortunate and humbled to have Dr. Gee serve as an advisor for our new Health Equity Data Strategy program, an initiative of the Partnership for Patient Care. This program will support hospitals in developing best practices for the collection of race, ethnicity, and language (REaL) data in order to identify disparities and promote health equity.
In honor of Patient Experience Week, our President, Wendy Nickel, had an opportunity to sit down with Dr. Gee and learn more about what drives him and why engaging patients is instrumental for creating equitable, high-quality healthcare. Here are excerpts from their discussion:
What drove you to get more involved in your own healthcare?
I’ve always been an activist in my community. I worked for the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice and have fought against systemic issues such as poverty, social and racial injustices, and criminal justice reform. When I was diagnosed with CKD, I saw some information about a patient and family advisory council at the dialysis center and wanted to learn more. It was important to me to be educated so that I could support my care partner (my wife) and then others. It empowered me to listen to people who didn’t want to be defined by their illnesses, but empowered by them. Being part of the council allowed me to help navigate others through the obstacles and pitfalls of their disease, and maintain comfortable, high quality living. My illness has allowed me to speak out for people who can’t speak for themselves and bring information and tools to them.
What is a recent memorable experience you’ve had as a patient advocate working to improve healthcare?
I was working with a team to integrate primary care and behavioral health for veterans. This experience gave me real insight into the barriers to care for servicemen. It can be very crowded in some of the hospitals and trying to get appointments for both primary care and mental health services can take a long time. But we listened to the servicemen and came up with several patient-driven solutions to get seen quickly. We also identified ways to make sure they have ongoing care plans that contribute to a good quality of life.
Why is patient partnership critical to improving our healthcare system?
People in our world are known by titles, whether it’s dr., mr., or mrs. But when you use the word “patient,” it denotes something else and people become blinded to their humanity. But if a person is able to partner in their healthcare, this gives them the opportunity to work with their clinician as a consultant to get advice and achieve their goals. For example, if a clinician looks at a lab result that is out of range, but doesn’t ask why that may be, they might assume the individual is “non-compliant”. However, if the clinician gets to know the individual, their jobs, their hobbies, the communities where the live, they can support the individual in thriving. We need to take the judgment out of the language and relationships in healthcare. When patients become partners, the playing field is level. It gives people living with illnesses a bolder voice in being responsible for their care.
Can you share your experience working in health equity and what you’ve learned?
I am currently working on a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) workgroup with PFCC Partners, an organization that promotes patient and family engagement in all aspects of healthcare. I’ve learned a lot since George Floyd was killed last May. Equity is not just about race – people are discriminated against for being disabled, or for their sexual orientation, or gender identity. Discrimination impacts physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Healthcare is about access and if these biases exist, not everyone has the same access to good healthcare. DEI is about creating safe spaces where we can teach and learn as equal humans.
When you’re not busy advocating and working to improve the lives of others, what do you like to do?
I have 5 children and 9 grandchildren, so they keep me busy. I am very active in my ministry and I also love fishing and watching sports. I am a big Dallas Cowboys fan, so I take a lot of heat for that. I am active in marital arts and actually qualified for the 1988 US Olympic Taekwondo team, but unfortunately had an injury.