Ami Bhatt, MD

Empowering Congenital Heart Disease Patients To Lead Full, Productive Lives

 

Q&A With Dr. Ami Bhatt

What attracted you to the BIF Summit?

I first heard about the BIF Summit at another event, and loved the idea of getting together with lots of people who innovate in different areas, but don’t think about cross-pollinating in those other areas and connecting across disciplines. Especially in medicine. In the practice in medicine and provision of care, that’s where we could learn a lot and move the practice of medicine forward. That was really what I was thinking. What happens if you put people from different arenas in the same space and let cross-pollination work?

Tell us just a bit about the subject of your BIF Summit story.

I take care of adults with congenital heart disease, the “blue babies” who’ve grown up. Adult cardiologists tell them, “I don’t really know what you have,” and pediatric cardiologists say, “What do you mean you want to get pregnant and why are you in my office at 40 years old?”

Adult congenital heart disease is a new field, because more and more of people with pediatric heart disease are growing up and living full adult lives, and we have to think about how you care for them. I trained in both pediatric medicine and cardiology to learn to take care of them. The average age of my patients is 32. You need to practice in a different way. They don’t necessarily want to be reminded of their childhood in the hospital. They’ve had open-heart surgery as children, and now they say, “I’m too busy to take care of myself.”

The question is how do we provide tertiary level care to patients where they live. I use digital health, electronic stethoscopes, handheld ultrasounds. I can teach local doctors in communities to be comfortable treating these patients. But the big questions is how do we get that level of care to people where they live? What are the business practices of this? How do we take a holistic approach? My patients suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression from spending much of their childhoods in the hospital. It’s a big world that can come together nicely if we think about how to build those networks.

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What, to you, is the value of sharing stories?

It’s a cliche that you never really know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes. But it’s true. Not everybody is necessarily able to share a story in a way that connects with other people. It’s a unique skill and also on that those of us who enjoy connecting with people really try to foster and get better at.

The stories of my patients make me get up in the morning and go to work. It’s how I remember my more than 3000 patients. Their stories link me to their numbers and the things I need to know about them.

If you have one person like myself or others who can adapt other people’s stories to what others can relate to you can solve challenges. It comes down to two things:

  1. Stories are how many of us relate to what we do, which is true of every discipline.
  2. If you can share stories, you can learn across other disciplines and do things in other ways.

We can think of lots of things in an objective manner, but it’s better to think in in an objective but emotional manner. The real art of storytelling is to take something objective and communicate the emotion of it.

Do you have a motto, or “words to live by”? If so, what is it?

I have many, which is probably a problem! Here are a few I like to tell people:

This isn’t so much so much a motto, but where I come from. In my office I have a Norman Rockwell, the one with the little boy leaning over, his butt sticking out, about to get a shot. I’ve always had that with me because that’s the kind of physician I always want to be. That’s what it means to me to be a caregiver, being a “Norman Rockwell” physician. That’s what drives me personally.

The other thing I try to think about myself and also teach others is, if you don’t tell the story, nobody will know. That’s the key. And it’s not just your story. There’s always a situation where you have an opportunity to tell a story, and if you don’t tell it nobody will know. This applies to so many different times in life. That interaction where you tell a story may be one that influences with someone later on. This is not to say, speak up or forever hold your peace. But recognize that if you don’t tell the story — yours or someone else’s — nobody will know. We have to remember that. This is communication — not for an endpoint, not to get stuff done, but to be useful.

What one thing (or more, if you like) would you like Summit attendees to know about you before they hear your story?

This isn’t a need-to-know, but I teach my kids and my residents, who I consider my kids, inclusivity.

The idea is that if we approach anything...a project, a problem, a success...with idea of being inclusive, then that allows us to be innovative. You have to be willing to listen to others and change your mind. I haven’t fleshed out that idea yet. I need to think a little bit more. But I want to say, I look forward to the next decade, and I want to work about encouraging inclusivity.

And I also enjoy traveling, and having dance parties with my daughters at home.