As former director of patient and family services for a major medical center, Elaine Koenig is an expert on how patients should be treated by a healthcare institution. Plus, her personal experience as a breast cancer patient gave her an intimate idea of how healthcare providers should interact with patients who have serious illnesses.
So when Elaine recently received exemplary healthcare service for a heart condition, she wanted to learn from the experience. She remarks: "I called my colleagues in marketing and said, 'You need to send some people up there to Cleveland Clinic to see what they do.'"
Conveniently, Elaine herself never had to travel all the way to Cleveland. She was able to take advantage of the world renowned institution's services by simply using her computer at home. She was seeking a reliable and thorough expert medical second opinion, and that is what she got when she used Cleveland Clinic's MyConsult® Online Medical Second Opinion program.
MyConsult is a sophisticated, Web-based extension of Cleveland Clinic's 90-plus-year role as one of America's most respected referral institutions. The secure, online program provides medical second opinions from Cleveland Clinic specialists for more than 1,200 life-threatening and life-changing diagnoses.
"I'm very glad I used the MyConsult program," says Elaine. "It confirmed my diagnosis and reinforced what I should do for my heart problem. I received a very thorough report from Cleveland Clinic that made me feel confident in what should be done about my condition."
Elaine had not always felt so confident. Her heart problems started mysteriously 15 years ago while she was receiving radiation for her breast cancer. "My doctors called it an idiopathic condition, meaning that it had no known cause. It may have been a result of the radiation, but we don't know."
Regardless of how it developed, Elaine was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that puts a person at risk for arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats) and congestive heart failure. "I went to Emory's heart failure center, which is headed up by my physician, and they started me on medications to make my heart beat more efficiently."
"Things got better," she adds, "but then last year, I developed problems again and was not responding to the medications. They thought I might have a mitral valve problem, as well as a scar from the radiation, and they suggested I might need to have a defibrillator surgically implanted."
Given the severity of the situation, Elaine's cardiologist recommended that she get a second opinion through Cleveland Clinic's MyConsult program. "We got all my records together and sent them off to Cleveland Clinic," she says. "Submitting my information was not a very labor-intensive process at all. I was immediately contacted by a Cleveland Clinic nurse. Then within two weeks, my report was available on the secure website for me to review. We were extremely happy with the service."
By "we," Elaine is referring to herself and her husband, Ronald, who is a neurologist serving as medical director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Inc. "My husband always says that no good physician is ever threatened by a second opinion," says Elaine. "My doctor was very agreeable about me using MyConsult, and he has recommended the MyConsult program to some of his other patients. That's good patient care and the way it should be."
"When seeking a medical second opinion, people should not have to be concerned about how their primary doctor will react," she adds. "There should be no egos involved, just as there were none at all in my case. I've gone back for follow-up appointments, and my relationship remains good with my physician. Emory Healthcare is an excellent institution."
Imitating the Energizer Bunny
"Being ill was hard for me because I'm a high-energy person," says Elaine. A peek into her life makes it obvious that this comment is an understatement. The mother of three children, who are now a pediatrician, attorney and television producer, Elaine has had a busy career life of her own.
Initially working as a physical therapist, she went on to earn a master's degree in public health. Then she was employed at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University for a number of years before she developed the breast cancer. That experience led her to join Susan B. Komen for the Cure, which she served as executive director.
Elaine most recently served as director of patient and family services for the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory. "This experience made me very sensitive to patients and all they have to go through, including their interactions with doctors and other healthcare personnel," she says. "Cancer and heart disease are pretty scary diseases, and it's such a positive thing when patients can be given the appropriate care to see them through these challenging times."
"I certainly got that kind of treatment from Cleveland Clinic," she notes. "They answered all my questions and were available to me. It was very comforting to know that if I had a question, I had a person I could contact to get the right answer. MyConsult was just as good as seeing a doctor face-to-face."
Elaine's MyConsult report was a source of great relief for her and her family because it recommended a regimen of medications rather than surgery. "I was happy that a second MRI showed I had no scar and no need for a defibrillator," she says. "The Cleveland Clinic report was very detailed and basically confirmed what my doctors here were saying."
"When any patient is faced with a devastating illness, it is so important that their healthcare facility works toward servicing that patient wholeheartedly," Elaine adds. "I've always said that the patient needs to be at the center. Certainly, Cleveland Clinic realizes this."
Enjoying life to the max
For now, Elaine is living life to the fullest. "Basically, I've been told to take medications, exercise and enjoy life," she says. For her, enjoying life includes visiting her three grandchildren in New York and going on other trips with her husband. A couple years ago, the Koenigs went to Greece, where they climbed the Acropolis. "I could only get halfway up," says Elaine, "but I didn't feel so bad when my children said that's all they could do."
This past spring, the Koenigs went to Germany. "We do a lot of walking on our travels," Elaine notes. "I get tired sometimes, but generally feel good. My life is very full. After having cancer, I realized you have to live each day fully."
"I'm very thankful for MyConsult," she adds. "It was good to have someone with fresh eyes look at my condition and reinforce what I'm doing. Using the online service makes it so easy and affordable. You don't have to fly to Cleveland. However, if I eventually do need surgery, that's where I'll go. To me, Cleveland Clinic is the premiere place to be. And if you're dealing with something scary, you want to go to the best place."