"Family is everything” is the message of a new television ad from Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, Ga. Warm and affirming, the ad explains how the system invites patients and their families to assist in diagnosis and treatment, and portrays an inclusive partnership between the healthcare team and families.
Will the ad be successful in attracting patients to the system? That remains to be seen, but the ad itself underscores an important shift in the focus of healthcare. Patients are now in control of their care more than ever, and can serve as great resources and partners as hospitals work to provide high-quality care.
Patient outcomes improve and hospital readmissions are reduced when patients take their medications, comply with treatment plans and understand after-care instructions. Often, the patient’s family members are the primary caregivers after a hospital stay, and they need to understand the treatment plan. They are the best eyes and ears available to alert doctors to potential problems. Preventing an infection with early intervention, for example, can save lives.
Patients and their families, however, can’t prevent everything. They need support to report problems, ask questions or review their instructions. They are not doctors or nurses, but they are caregivers. Not every hospital currently has the structure to accommodate ongoing interactions between patients and staff. These organizations must review their structures, from core values and mission statements to ongoing appointments after discharge, and perhaps make some fundamental changes before they can claim that patients are their primary focus.
Once the hospital is patient-centered, however, the organization can create partnerships with patients to address quality-improvement initiatives that ultimately will increase the value of the care given. Increasing the value of care is one of the tenets of the Affordable Care Act and the foundation of restructuring the reimbursement model.
Changing to a patient-focused approach will happen only with staff training and leadership. We are asking hospitals to change dramatically, and the process will undoubtedly be uncomfortable, but it will be impossible without training. Just like infectious disease staffs had to learn how to don and remove Ebola contamination suits last year, providers of all kinds will have to learn new ways of delivering care.
Patients are no longer willing simply to be treated; they also want to participate in their own healthcare. Increasing the transparency of the system will help keep them informed. In the past several years, a number of physician rating services have been available online. Patients can research their providers, read comments and reviews, sort potential providers by expertise and specialties, and assess insurance network participation. I expect this capability to mature and encompass much more information in the next few years.
Patients will be able to make informed decisions about the doctor and hospital before asking for treatment, including the cost of office visits, tests and procedures. They will also have greater access to their own records and test results. Patient satisfaction will take on new meaning and importance.
As patient choice increases, highly-ranked doctors and hospitals will be in demand and high-quality healthcare will become the driving force behind reimbursements. Those who can provide the best care at the lowest costs will win.
Better care and better outcomes mean patients become healthier and live longer. Communities thrive. And then, perhaps, we all win.