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Treating Patients as Partners

January 2016
Author: Lisa Ellis

How far do you go to involve your patients as a valued part of your organization? The answer may become increasingly important over the next few years. In the current healthcare climate, accrediting bodies and insurers are expecting providers to step up their efforts to design their care models in such a way as to encourage patients to take an active role in their own medical care.

This formal healthcare model, commonly referred to as a Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) designation, is really a comprehensive framework for designing your primary system of care. It revolves around the core concept of positioning patients so they can help to direct their own outcomes. From an organizational perspective, it’s also a model that can help you strive for new standards of excellence.

While the motivation behind this philosophy is simple, creating a structure that allows patients to have an equal role is much more complicated.

But the good news is that you don’t have to be an established PCMH yet to begin taking advantage of the many benefits of practicing a patient-centered approach and empowering your patients to partner with you toward common goals.

When reaching out to patients to keep them engaged, here are six key points of the Patient-Centered Medical Home model that you can integrate into your current operations. (Over time, these steps can be adapted into a more formal PCMH in order for you and your patients to get the full range of benefits.)

  1. Assign one primary care provider who will lead the patient’s care. This is important, since this medical professional will serve as the point person to ensure all of the patient’s needs are met. This provider should also connect the patient with specialists and other resources as needed, and help manage transitions between providers and practices to ensure continuity of care and information sharing.

  2. Use technology to give your patient access to the latest healthcare information and research so she will have the knowledge and tools she needs to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors and reduce unnecessary risks. Your design choices can help to incorporate technology right into the exam room to facilitate patient-provider communication and education.

  3. Treat the patient and his or her family as equal partners in making treatment decisions. Share treatment options and considerations and let the patient help guide the decision process, both during treatment and beyond.

  4. Provide convenient access to care, offering evening and weekend hours, making advice and test results available electronically, and accommodating the patient’s other personal needs, lifestyle choices, and religious preferences wherever possible.

  5. Also make sure your physical location is conveniently located within the community, so patients can access your services in the course of meeting their work and family obligations.

  6. Assign opportunities for the patient to share feedback on the medical process and system, identifying areas where improvement is needed. This information can enable you to strengthen your efforts to develop a flexible and responsive system where the patient truly has a shared investment. You can also learn from others who are having success in developing more patient-focused systems of care.

Remember that when you treat your patients as important members of their healthcare team, and create the physical environment to support easy access, the payoffs can be substantial. These benefits include increased safety, reduced Emergency Department visits, and better educated patients. And ultimately, it also means that your organization will be better positioned for success as it moves forward in the coming years.