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‘Patient-centered’ focus boils down to critical core issue

Much discussion has taken place lately, at least in my corner of the state, about terms such as “patient-focused” healthcare (should there be any other kind?) as well as convenience and accessibility in the delivery of services.

I’m not a physician, nurse, pharmacist or healthcare administrator, so I don’t bring those frames of reference to any dialogue. But I do bring patient perspectives as an individual, as a parent and as a family member.
There are several factors that stand out in my mind in distinguishing positive interactions from negative ones.

A shared goal

Good health and subsequently improved quality of life for area residents is the goal that we’re all aiming to achieve, and progress has been made in our state in community outreach and education to prevent various illnesses or complications whenever possible. Beyond outreach and education, strong partnerships between patients and healthcare providers are imperative to the process and require trust, communication and cooperation among involved parties.

While most people are in agreement on the importance of these attributes, achieving them is another story.

Various accreditation and licensing agencies have oversight responsibilities regarding technical competency and proficiency, patients should also take the initiative to learn about individual healthcare providers as much as they can in non-emergency situations. Educational training and board certifications of physicians and support staff, depth of experience and proficiency in performing various procedures, accessibility in emergency situations, and the experiences of friends and family should all be taken into account in making healthcare decisions.

It often mystifies me that some consumers put more research into purchasing a television or computer than they do in their own healthcare.

Expectations and obligations

Patients can also aid the process by showing up for appointments on time, bringing appropriate information for any associated paperwork and by writing down any questions they may have, as well as any medications they are taking in order to make the best use of the time they have with physicians and/or support staff.

And when physicians give instructions for patient care, the instructions should be followed — an obvious point that’s often abandoned.

From an institutional standpoint, hospital personnel and healthcare teams can continue to improve their efforts by putting themselves in the patient’s shoes. Are your policies and procedures clear and easy to discern? Are your staffing nurses and other patient-care support personnel appropriate to best serve patients? Do you exhibit a sense of empathy and caring for patients or do they feel like they’re just another ID number? Also, how proactive is the institution in seeking — and in acting upon — suggestions for improvement?

From a physicians’ standpoint, do you take time to listen to patients? How clear are your instructions to patients? Do you act annoyed or hurried when patients ask questions? Do you go the extra mile to communicate why things are done in a particular manner and what responsibilities patients have for follow-up care?

Once again, communication matters

While various procedures may be routine to physicians who perform them every day, they’re not necessarily familiar to patients. Personally, I know that when I ask questions I’m not aiming to be disrespectful — I just want to be informed of all that I should be doing to be responsible.

As in most situations, open communication and mutual understanding go a long way in avoiding potential misunderstandings.

Much has been said in recent years about some hospitals going “overboard” in terms of their facilities. I wholeheartedly agree that anything excessive does not make the best use of resources and that unquestionably, investments in patient care are the top priority. But I also believe that patients deserve and appreciate a pleasant, comfortable and clean environment, particularly when there’s treatment for an extended illness with repeated visits.

Moreover, when facilities or offices have a messy or dingy appearance, it makes me question whether the same level of effort goes into the quality of care at that facility.
Improving the quality of healthcare in any particular region is an evolutionary process that requires input and teamwork among patients, community leaders and individual/institutional healthcare providers.

Undeniably, fiscal responsibility, structure and accountability are imperative elements of the effort. But so are the day-to-day interactions with people — the true center of a “patient-centered” focus.

Tupelo-based journalist and consultant Karen Kahler Holliday writes frequently for the Mississippi Business Journal. Send comments about her column to mbj@msbusiness.com.

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