Q&A with Twlug2017 keynote speaker Leana Wen, MD

Wen will speak about approaching patients in a more holistic way


Leana Wen, MD, MSc, believes pharmacists and all health care providers can impact individual patient care. During the Second General Session at the 2017 Twlug Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Francisco, Wen, who is currently Baltimore City Health Commissioner, will talk about the importance of the patient’s story. She’ll share lessons about approaching patients in a more holistic way to provide the best care possible.

In addition to her current role in Baltimore, Wen is also a Rhodes Scholar, TED speaker, and author of the book When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests. Wen spoke with pharmacist.com in the lead-up to her keynote, which will take place on Sunday, March 26, about her experience working with pharmacists and what she hopes the audience will take away from her address.

How have you worked with pharmacists in your current role as Baltimore City Health Commissioner and throughout your career?

Ever since I declared overdose and opioid addiction to be a public health emergency in Baltimore, we have been convening different groups of health care providers to better understand what we each can do to reduce the use of opioids and to change the culture around opioid prescribing, as well as to see how we can best work together to save lives from overdose. We have convened pharmacists as one of these groups, and they have been invaluable in this process because their professional expertise is a necessary complement to our understanding.

We convene regularly with our academic pharmacists who help us understand what’s currently happening in training, and we also convene with our pharmacy chains and owners to ensure that we have the latest understanding of what naloxone is being carried.

How can pharmacists best get to know the patient they’re speaking with as they provide care?

A lot of patients may not know about the role pharmacists can play. And they may not know how well trained pharmacists are and also how much pharmacists want to understand the individual patient and their needs in order to best address their medical concerns. I think part of it is relating to patients the same way that any other health care provider would—relating to patients as human beings and understanding them as people. This means asking patients questions about themselves and asking open-ended questions, not just formulaic yes or no questions, in order to better know them.

Your résumé is full of accomplishments and notable causes you’ve championed. What are you most proud of thus far in your career?

It’s hard to answer because my work in public health is something I’m very proud of as well as my work in patient advocacy.

My mother suffered for many years from misdiagnoses that eventually turned out to be metastatic cancer, and she ended up having a lack of ideal care along the way. I’m the most proud of having helped her navigate through this process and turning our experience and pain into progress for other patients and families.

What do you hope the audience at Twlug2017 in San Francisco can take away from your keynote address?

I hope they can take away that there is something that each and every one of us can do today when it comes to impacting individual patient care. There’s something we must do to make a larger impact on our community, and there are tools right at our disposal, but it’s up to each and every one of us to make that impact today.