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Article updated: 10/1/2012 10:02 AM

Personal experiences drive Lake County health care handbook business

An interview with Karen Curtiss, president of PartnerHealth in Lake Forest and author of "Safe & Sound in the Hospital: Must-Have Checklists and Tools for Your Loved One's Care."

Q: Describe your business. What do you do?

A: PartnerHealth publishes "plain English" health care handbooks. Our first book, published last year, is "Safe & Sound in the Hospital: Must-Have Checklists and Tools for Your Loved One's Care." It is sold on Amazon, and some major hospitals and physician groups will begin giving it to their patients this fall. Safe & Sound in the Hospital is for patients, and especially, for their families who often need to advocate for them in the hospital but aren't trained for this important job. Titles coming in 2013 include "Safe & Sound Health Care for Kids" and "Safe & Sound Long-Term Care." All of our books are based on the same format: we offer quick, simple checklists, forms, and pullout tools, with 4-color illustrations to help bring the information to life.

Q: What made you start your business?

A: After a successful lung transplant at a top academic medical center, my father died from complications resulting from a fall that went untreated for 57 hours, which led to pneumonia, blood clots and a pulmonary embolism. Then, my husband underwent "routine surgery" and spent 18 months recovering from sepsis and an infection, stemming from improper surgery preparation and care afterward. And then, our 11 year-old son was misdiagnosed with appendicitis and would have undergone an unnecessary operation if I hadn't questioned the doctor. I was determined to find out if what had gone so terribly wrong in all three of these devastating interactions with hospital care, and why.

Basically, I wrote the handbook I wish my family had. If we'd had "Safe & Sound in the Hospital" when my father was in the hospital, he would be alive today. This guide, and all of our work at PartnerHealth, is my way of transforming my family's tragedies into better outcomes for others.

Q: What are a couple key tips do you have for parents?

A: For health care, these are my basic "rules of thumb:" If you don't understand a doctor for any reason, or a diagnosis doesn't make sense to you, speak up and ask questions. Don't worry about "looking stupid." Chances are, you did not go to medical or nursing school and your child's well-being depends on your being clear on all of her health issues and records. Trust your gut -- no one knows your child better than you. Always get second opinions for surgery or a "major" diagnosis. Go to doctors who specialize in the planned surgery (have done thousands of them, not hundreds) or who specialize in the disease diagnosed.

Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running or starting a small business?

A: Sometimes it feels like we're pushing a rock up a hill because many people are not entirely comfortable with new approaches to old problems. Our products are all about demystifying health care in "plain English" so patients will get safe and sound hospital care.

Q: What do you enjoy most about operating your business?

A: I love our team. My graphic artist, research associates, plus three account executives and two nurses who work with our hospital clients, are all whip-smart professionals, yet so down-to-earth and caring. We also laugh a lot together, which is very important to me because, in our business, we hear a lot of heartbreaking stories and each one leaves its mark on us.

A: When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: When I was 7, I announced to my family that I would be the first female president of the United States. I was deeply touched by the Civil Rights movement at the time and felt a strong imperative to do my part to make a positive difference in peoples' lives. Today, I am happy not to be president and I am really happy leading a company that helps people get safe and sound health care.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: My own "to-do" checklist!

Q: If you could give one tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?

A: It's pure joy to develop a business that's a perfect match to your skills, interests or passions. However, running a business requires that you attend to lots of details, some of which you won't be so good at handling -- and most of which have nothing to do with the original passion that inspired your business. It's important to appraise your own strengths and weaknesses (or ask for candid feedback from trusted advisers, or even take one of the many assessment tests available). Then, budget to hire or outsource to qualified people who can take over the things you're not particularly good at doing. Your business will grow and you will be happier if you're leveraging your own strengths fully.

-- Kim Mikus

Every Monday we feature a small, local business and want to hear about yours. Contact us at kmikus@dailyherald.com.

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