Before I became a medical student, I worked as a case worker at a children’s clinic. We helped families apply for food stamps, or if they had those already and still needed help (as most did), we referred them to local food pantries and other community resource to help them make ends meet. We tried to help them look for affordable housing, but generally ended up telling them that there was no subsidized housing available in the City of Chicago. The more I worked with my low-income clients, I realized that more important than any resource I could — or more often than not, could not — provide them, it was more important that I was there to respond to their phone calls, answer their questions, and advocate for them when possible.

Initially, I thought that the problems that I faced with my clients were unique to working with low-income populations. However, the more I came to understand the problems and inefficiencies in our healthcare system, the more I realized that even among more affluent families, when it comes to healthcare, the existing programs are not quite enough, the wait for an appointment are often still longer than we would like, and the patients still need someone there day in and day out to advocate for them.

That is why I plan on becoming a primary care physician and why I decided to work with Intake.Me.

As a medical student, there is still much for me to learn about disease, but in the hierarchy of how things work in the hospital, I have found myself on one end of the phone having to inform a family member of their loved one’s new diagnosis of end-stage dementia. I have become the professional hand-holder and tissue-getter when people receive their new cancer diagnoses. I have been witness to the strength and grace of people when being faced with the harshest of diseases.

I am also the one who spreads hours on the phone calling doctors offices and hospitals, faxing release forms and waiting around nursing stations until the faxes arrive with pages and pages of a person’s medical record, sometimes legible, sometimes not. Sometimes I’m even put in charge of sifting through that binder of information, trying to make sense of what happened. I have realized during that process, that fax machines truly are a nightmare. I have also learned that while learning the pathophysiology of disease is important, it is even more important to explain the disease in a way that someone can understand and teach the patient how to manage their disease at home. I have realized that even though, as a medical student, I have more time than I will ever have going forward, there is still no way I am able to give every patient the personal attention and coaching they deserve.

In many ways, the road to becoming an empowered patient must be walked by the patient themselves. As a wise primary care doctor once told me, in outpatient care, we aren’t through darts at a target, we’re throwing birds — and at the end of the day, we can’t predict where they fly. However, I hope through the work we do at Intake.Me, we will make it so that patients are not walking that path unequipped and on their own.

Patient information has been altered to remove all identifying information.

Emily Lu

Emily Lu

Co-founder at Intake.Me
As a medical student going into family medicine, Emily joined Intake.me to leverage technology to create a more patient-centered health care system. Emily is now a resident in the UCSF-SFGH Family and Community Medicine program. She is focused on developing a primary care system that uses technology to empower patients. Emily is passionate about underserved medicine, public health and quality improvement. She was selected to present an Ignite!Talk at Medx2015 on streamlining doctor visits.
Emily Lu