Many times quality is in the eye of the beholder, which can make healthcare outcomes improvements quite difficult. Add to that the different definitions that are accepted throughout the healthcare industry as to what outcomes improvements truly mean and you can begin to see the dilemma that healthcare organizations face as they step into this new and developing realm. However, one of the common factors between defining establishments is that more focus needs to be placed on patients, with the outcomes and experiences at the forefront of this effort.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has stated that patient-centric care should take into consideration 8 areas of awareness:
- Respecting patient preferences
- Providing detailed information
- Communicating medication directions
- Coordinating care with all involved
- Providing emotional or psychological support
- Providing physical support
- Involving family in decisions and support
- Ensuring continuity, transition and access of care
Part of the reason that this kind of specific focus has made its way into mainstream healthcare practices is due to the fact that patient satisfaction levels had hit an all-time low. Not because of anything specific, especially since healthcare outcomes have seen a positive boost. Some of the treatment, both clinically and physically, of patients has been at the expense of the personal needs or limits of the individual. Patient satisfaction needs to be considered when healthcare outcomes improvements are being planned out for the organization. Patient-centric care isn’t simply about making someone better.
Taking the IOM list of areas of concern, each of the items may seem self-explanatory and part of common sense medicine, but not all of them are always easy to put into practice. One of the biggest complaints that many healthcare professionals run into is that patients come in with some knowledge, usually acquired over the Internet in a span of about a half an hour, and the patient then goes on to lecture the professional on how treatments should progress. Obviously, not everything is correct on the Internet, nor is the information complete. However, experts shouldn’t always dismiss everything that the patient is bringing to the table; sometimes doctors are rushed and overlook important symptoms or facts that might lead to better care and outcomes. A balance must be reached, and unfortunately, this is going to be on an individual basis because everyone’s needs is slightly different.
Going along with this topic, there are times where doctors and other staff members don’t provide all the information to a patient, for whatever reason, and thus the patient cannot make an informed decision. It is for the purpose of knowing the pros and cons that a patient must be fed as much information as possible. This is vitally significant when dealing with medications. With the availability of so many over-the-counter drugs, holistic and herbal treatments and the sometimes lackadaisical management of other drugs, the necessity to be upfront and honest about all medications will go a long way to ensuring better outcomes and quality in healthcare treatments.
When talking about coordination of care, it has been made much easier by the implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHR), which are digital copies of patient’s records and documentation that can be accessed by different doctors and specialists without the patient having to physically carry or transfer information from one office to another. This also can include talking to one person who makes appointments, verifies information and makes reminder calls to ensure that a patient is going to different appointments at different locations. This allows for the patient to know exactly who to talk to and ask questions of, but minimizes the opportunities for patients to fall through the cracks and be lost in the system, which turns into further costs, complications and dissatisfaction in the healthcare organization.
Having physiological, emotional and physical support throughout traumatic and complicated treatments may seem like one of the things that should just come second nature to healthcare professionals. However, this isn’t always the case possibly due to oversight and the patient doesn’t speak up for themselves, or it could be put aside as unnecessary because the treatment may not be seen as difficult to a physician, yet is in the eyes of the patient.
Another subject that may seem a bit thorny to a medical staff member is the involvement of family in decision making and support for the patient. Family members sometimes come into situations with Internet knowledge and may try to take over, and this may require careful and concise communication. But family should be involved as much as possible, including being informed of challenges and aided in fact-based decision making. In this way, everyone can be on the same page, working toward the same goal and making sure that the patient has as much support as possible.
Finally, the continuity and transitioning of care encompass patient, professional and family to ensure that all treatment steps are adhered to, that questions are being answered, and that the patient is given everything they need to guarantee the best outcome possible.
When the patient is put first as not just a number or chart to be manhandled, healthcare outcomes improvements will be realized and patient satisfaction will grow. It’s not to say that there won’t be challenges along the way, and individuals that won’t do all they can to safeguard their health, but having and using all the tool possible to protect and support a patient can make a positive outcome a reality. It is true that some of the ambiguity that is a part of the healthcare culture will be ironed out over time, and with this, more possibilities of better healthcare and better satisfaction all along the way.