Sumedha Khanna

When Dr. Sumedha Khanna, an OB GYN physician, was still practicing medicine, she valued having a conversation with her patients and getting to know them. When she retired, she was lucky enough to find a physician who would do the same for her. Her physician’s considerate care eventually influenced her approach to daily living and also affected her consulting work with senior women at her women’s health center, Healing Well, and with her senior women’s group, “Sisters of the Third Journey.”

Her physician was Dr. Ellen Barnett, founder of Imagine YOU, a healthcare approach that places focus on patients and their goals. Khanna said, “Even though I’m not a practicing physician anymore, I’m always interested in physicians who talk to their patients before checking vital signs….. I was very moved that somebody [Dr. Barnett] was interested in how a person feels and what matters to them rather than imposing a number of tests before talking to them.”

Khanna’s positive experiences with Barnett and Imagine YOU piqued her interest. Imagine YOU resembled the patient-centered care (PCC) she had practiced during her medical career, but it’s focused and involved process was intriguing.

Although PCC and the more traditional care approach both value the patient and their health, PCC differs in emphasizing open patient-physician communication. Health discussions are not limited to a diagnosis and treatment. Instead, they are more personal, in which a patient’s lifestyle, preferences, and goals are discussed. This way, patients can take a more active role in their health care, in collaboration with a health professional.

Imagine YOU expands on this idea of PCC by focusing on the whole person and on what drives them to take action to improve their circumstances. Instead of being told what’s best for their health, people pinpoint what they think is best for their well being and use this as motivation to take small steps to improve their health. For example, instead of simply being told to be more physically active, a person imagines enjoying hikes with a friend. This person can then take comfortable steps toward that goal, perhaps by enjoying short walks after work a few days a week. S/he can gradually work up to longer walks in various terrains. Imagine YOU offers participants a practice they can commit to.

Imagine YOU helps provides a fresh, healthy outlook on any situation. Khanna said, “I use this method for myself, and it works. Changes happen in people’s lives, and we have to think of what’s important to us and how to achieve it, so we can get through this change.”

There isn’t a foolproof approach to making big changes, like deciding where to live, but Khanna describes how Imagine YOU helped guide her with where to begin. She said, “I had to imagine what kind of place I wanted to live in, and what kind of a house…I created a visual for myself about what I see in this place, and that gave me the idea of moving to where I am now.”

Today, Khanna lives in Santa Rosa, California, and keeps herself busy. One of her projects, “Sisters of the Third Journey,” is a group made up of women 60 years and older. They meet regularly to find ways to take care of their health and be empowered to remain driven, happy, and active as they grow older.

“I used Imagine You in a couple of our group meetings. I think it’s a good way to help women as they face challenges. For example, something common is that someone’s husband gets weak so the wife gets concerned about him, and about losing him. Imagine YOU would be a good way for the wives to focus on themselves and figure out what’s important to them, so they can move forward.”

Moving forward could be as simple as making it through the stress of the day. A woman caring for her sick husband is bound to face difficult and stressful situations, but even in the midst of that, Imagine YOU could help her feel better and more positive. It could make this challenge somewhat bearable because it provides an image of hope and something to look forward to. Imagine YOU helps people realize what matters to them and imagine positive outcomes and possibilities outside their current situation. This motivates them to work towards those possibilities.

As a financial supporter of IMCF projects, Khanna learned the Imagine YOU methodology by observing training sessions and workshops. She said, “It seems to work well under group settings. But I’d like to try to use Imagine You in a one on one setting when interacting with seniors, in a new group I’m starting called “Aging Well.” It would allow more focus on each person.”

She adds, “I’m interested in how this method translates to people of different cultures and languages.”  Khanna is originally from India, and one of her second languages is Spanish. During her time with the World Health Organization, she’s done public health work in over 60 countries. This background, no doubt, provided insight on the complexities of cultural differences and communication.

“English is a very precise language. Other languages like Spanish or Hindi are not.” Laughing, she adds, “You can’t just ask questions like ‘what matters to you,’ or ‘how do you imagine yourself,’ and expect understanding. It requires deeper explanation and establishing a comfortable baseline in working with a person from different background. Imagine YOU seems to be working well with Spanish communities, in that sense. I’d like to figure out how to apply this method with other cultures, languages and places, like India.” Though she hasn’t achieved that particular goal yet, she may get closer once she begins applying Imagine YOU to her one on one consulting work.

During her career as a physician, Khanna worked with people from a variety of background and demographics. Now retired, she is constantly looking for new ways to work with people, like senior women, to help them live purposefully. Imagine YOU is one such method.