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Posted by on in Current Medical Issues

I recently had a conversation with a good friend who has a family member with a serious illness. She told me that close friends of the family had called her in distress about this family member, as if she was expected to comfort them! This made me remember an article I read recently about “ring theory.” I sent this article to my friend and suggested she send it to all of her friends and family. It’s important information about how to cope with friends and family who are dealing with a crisis or death.  I think it is so necessary to understand, that I wanted to spread the word to all of you. (It’s also been called the circle of kvetching, for those who can relate to the Yiddish term). Here is the original article:

How Not to Say the Wrong Thing 
by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman 

Last year Elana Premack Sandler wrote this excellent explanatory article:

Ring Theory Helps us Bring Comfort In
by Elana Premack Sandler, LCSW, MPH 

A few years ago, psychologist Susan Silk and her friend Barry Goldman wrote a piece about a concept they called the “Ring Theory.”

It’s a theory to help yourself know what to do in a crisis. If the crisis is happening to you, you’re in the center of the ring. If the crisis is not happening to you, you’re in one of the outer circles.

Here are the basic tenets paraphrased from Silk and Goodman’s article:

  1. Draw a circle. In this circle, write the name of the person at the center of the crisis.
  2. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In this ring, put the name of the person next closest to the crisis.
  3. In each larger ring, put the next closest people. As Silk and Goodman state, “Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones.”
The concept is simple: “comfort in, dump out.”
I think disseminating this information will make the world a better place! It seems obvious when reading about the theory, but we have all likely been in the position of saying something similar that we later regretted. So please share this far and wide. As Susan Silk and Barry Goldman have said “And don’t worry. You’ll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.”
Best of Health,
Sima Kahn, MD
Founder, Healthcare Advocacy Partners

Posted by on in Current Medical Issues

As most of you know, I am a zealot for the overthrow of the healthcare “system”—since it is not adequately serving any of us. You might think overthrow is a bit of hyperbole, which I suppose it is, but I believe what we have now needs to be totally reworked, including how it is paid for. Putting patches on a sinking ship is too little too late.

An example of how badly this system—controlled by financial considerations—went off the rails has been in the news lately in Seattle. One of the major healthcare systems in our area underwent an expose by The Seattle Times; it seems the leadership of the neurosurgery department had lost its moral compass, and what was occurring was unethical and also illegal in some cases. Quality of care had been sacrificed for profit.

A Lost Voice by Mike Baker

Unfortunately, patients suffered poor outcomes and there was at least one death that likely could have been averted. Heads rolled, the head of the department lost both his job and his medical license, the CEO resigned, the state department of health investigated, JCAHO got involved (never a good thing), and major changes are underway. 

There are many fine doctors in this hospital system, and I was extremely gratified to learn that many in that department, many of whom I have worked with, very vigorously objected to the circumstances and some suffered repercussions (one just was awarded a large amount of money for being fired as a whistle blower!). The past chief executive of the system’s physician division confronted the leadership regarding the situation suggesting that action be taken.

So why am I writing about this? For one, it confirms what I know to be true—most doctors are committed to doing what is right for their patients, do it well, and call out those who are acting counter to their principles. For another, when I initially read the articles in the paper about this investigation, I was screaming in my head “no, you need an advocate there!”

A young woman lost her life, despite the fact that her father is a doctor and was present in the ICU urging those caring for her to do what was needed. His concerns went unheeded. 

Having someone who is not related to the patient serving as an advocate is invaluable. No one can think clearly when their child is struggling to breathe. As advocates, we have no qualms about raising a ruckus, confronting care givers, or going up the chain of command until we get what is needed, particularly when it is a life-threatening event. I would like to believe that if an advocate had been there this young woman would still be alive; I don’t really know if that is the case, but I do know that if I had been there, there would have been a lot more yelling and screaming going on. Sometimes that is the best thing an advocate can do.

On that less than uplifting note, I do hope all of you had some rest and enjoyment over the holidays and are having a wonderful new year.

Best of Health,

Sima Kahn, MD
Founder, Healthcare Advocacy Partners

Posted by on in Current Medical Issues


I am something of a zealot for extolling the values of community and the need for personal connection. In my work as a healthcare advocate, I find myself urging new or established advocates to join the organizations for advocacy and to attend the conferences. I belong to 3 such organizations: National Association of Healthcare Advocacy ConsultantsWashington State Health Advocacy Association, and the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates.  It is worth every penny!

Why? Talking to your peers is invaluable in any profession, and in our line of work,  there aren’t all that many of us. We get support, validation, and knowledge about our field when we meet and network with each other.  This newsletter is about having a support network, building community, and more. It is about improving the quality of care for our clients, smoothing transitions, and getting business at the same time.

I have wonderful advocacy colleagues around the country, but was recently reminded of the value of connection because of a circumstance with a fellow advocate and her client.  My colleague, Dianne Savastano, is the founder and principal of Healthassist a healthcare advocacy firm based in Massachusetts. Dianne had worked with a member of a family on the east coast. When the father, who was living in Seattle at the time, began having health issues that were not resolving, the family asked Dianne if she had anyone in Seattle like her. She readily said that she did, and I was promptly connected to the father in Seattle.

This began a very pleasant and rewarding several months working with my client, whose goal stated at the outset was to move back to the east coast (besides resolving his health issues). We were able to make tremendous headway on the health issues, and only had to delay his move once.

And of course, Dianne and her associate, Anne Jacoby, sprang into action to make the move a carefully thought out and smooth transition, putting all the pieces into place on the east coast. This is the ultimate in coordination of care. I can completely relax knowing he is in the best of hands. Not to mention giving a shout out to his wonderful family both here in Seattle and on the east coast; they are the ultimate community and make it all possible!

This has been such a good example of the value of connection and the reason for community building that I will continue to promote it.  I will do whatever I can to give the best service to all of my clients, while continuing to network and connect with my fellow advocates.  As Helen Keller once said, ”We cannot accomplish all that we need to do without working together.”

Best of Health,

Sima Kahn, MD
Founder, Healthcare Advocacy Partners