Honouring the Patient Voice on World Arthritis Day

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Today’s guest post comes from Lisa Matar, President and General Manager at Eli Lilly Canada

I recently spent an enlightening afternoon with Annette McKinnon, who is living with rheumatoid arthritis. She’s also a seasoned advocate for better representation of what she calls “the patient voice” in the healthcare system, in the workplace, and elsewhere. The conversation opened my eyes to ways that we at Lilly can continue to improve experiences in the workplace for people with chronic conditions, and match their professional abilities to our business needs.

Before the day officially started, as I was getting ready for work, and thinking about my meeting with Annette, I was seeing commonplace things from a different perspective. How would someone with chronic pain heft a shampoo bottle, squeeze a tube of toothpaste, or step into a pair of dress shoes?

At the office—and Lilly’s not alone in this—the most common workplace complaint is about the ambient temperature, the setting on the thermostat. While an important influence on people’s productivity, this is only one of countless potential challenges for people with chronic illnesses. Smooth floors, fluorescent lights, and doorknobs that are too round to grip are just a few examples of everyday items in the workplace that can limit a person’s ability to participate. Our difficulty, as an employer, is that we often don’t know what we don’t know about effectively accommodating people. Walking a figurative mile with Annette helped me to see.

When Annette said “It’s hard to dress for success when you have to wear comfortable shoes,” I could feel all the expectations, all the pressures, and the potential reluctance people have about discussing their chronic illness with their employers and coworkers.

Our priority is to create an environment that is mutually trusting. We need to ensure people feel safe in speaking about their health. We need to ensure that the tools, like touchpads and light filters, are readily available. We need to be eager to provide them, and make sure that everyone knows these things come standard with a job at Lilly. Most importantly, we need to help coworkers understand that chronic illnesses are just that—they’re chronic. They don’t go away, and these ways of empowering people to do their best work and live their best life aren’t above and beyond: they’re our expectation for a workplace culture that’s built on mutual respect.

Including “the patient voice” in important conversations, about their workplace or about their own healthcare, isn’t only about amplifying that person’s words. We must make sure we’re listening, and that we stand beside these people in taking action.

Do you have a personal story about the impact of rheumatoid arthritis? Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram by using the hashtag #WADStory. 

For more information on rheumatoid arthritis, and resources for local support in your community, please visit and