Tag Archives: patient attitudes and beliefs

Patient Non-Adherence (Like Engagement) Is A Physician-Patient Communication Challenge – Not A Health Information Technology Challenge

Have you noticed all the articles in the health care press lately touting health information technologies’ ability to increase patient medication adherence?  Smart phone-based apps, Smart pill bottles and Patient Portals are all about trying to get patients to do something (take a medication) which some physician somewhere has deemed to be the right thing for the patient to do.   Some would call this process of generating adherence patient engagement.

AdoptOneBigButtonChalk these high-tech patient reminder solutions up to just another well-intentioned but misguided attempt by HIT vendors at patient engagement…one not likely to be met with much long-term success.  Sorry folks.

The fact is that these high-tech solutions, like physicians, still talk about non-adherence as if it is all the patient’s fault.  Come on …you have to admit that’s not a very engaging “message.”   You know…patients don’t fill (refill their prescriptions), patient don’t take their meds are directed, patient forget, and so on.  According to people much smarter than I am about such things, this perspective is outdated.

Many researchers now argue that patient non-adherence is more often the result of ineffective patient communication skills and not “disengaged, lazy or forgetful patients.”  One study showed that 19% of patient non-adherence was attributable to poor physician communication with patients.

It is also worth noting that there are two types of patient non-adherence – intention and unintentional…only one of which is addressed by these high-tech solutions.   In this post I want to focus on the intentionally non-adherent patients (the one not addressed by the reminders) .  After all, only bad or stupid people would intentionally go against something that clearly is their best interest…right?

Wrong.  As it turns out there are lots of legitimate reasons (from the patient’s perspective) for non-adherence.

Here are the main reasons cited in the literature:

  • The patient doesn’t agree with the diagnosis necessitating the prescription
  • The patient believes the diagnosis but doesn’t think the diagnosis is serious enough to merit taking a new medication prescription
  • The patient doesn’t believe in taking medications
  • The patient believes the risks associated with the medication outweigh the benefits
  • The patient doesn’t believe the medication will work
  • The patient can’t afford the medication

NonAdherenceThink about your recent physician visits, where your clinician prescribed a new medication.  I’ll bet one or two of the above “reservations” flitted across your mind.  I’ll also bet that your provider never once asked how you felt about taking the prescribed medication.  I’ll even go out on a limb and bet that most of you never mentioned your reservations to your provider either.

Don’t believe me?  Then consider this factoid.  When prescribing a new medication, the average primary care physician spends less than 50 seconds teaching (too strong a word) patient about the medication, e.g. why they need it, how to take it, how much to take, when to take it, indications and contraindications, when to stop and what to do when you stop.  That’s not much time for the physician to say everything that needs to be said (which doesn’t happen).  Nor does it leave time for the patient to say much.

Since most patients are reluctant to interrupt or contradict their clinician, many if not most of the concerns patients have about taking the new medications are never voiced.  Rather, patients just go home and never fill the prescript.

So now help me understand how my patient portal or smart phone app can engage me by implicitly blaming me for not taking my medications.  Or motive me to take my medications  when I don’t believe that they are not necessary or that they may be worse for me than the problem they are intended to solve.

Patient adherence is much more likely to occur when the patient and clinician agree on the basics, e.g., the diagnosis and treatment.  That requires a conversation or two or three.  The goal of effective clinician-patient communication is to resolve such disagreements.  And that is why the solution to patient non-adherence lies in developing the patient-centered communication skills of clinicians…not in trying to cajole patients into using some new app or patient portal that totally ignores their concerns and beliefs.

All together now…patient adherence (and engagement) are a physician-patient communication challenge…not an HIT challenge.

That’s what I think. What’s your opinion?

Note:  Later this Fall, Mind the Gap will be announcing the Adopt One! Challenge TM. for physicians and their care teams.  The goal of the challenge is to encourage physicians and their care teams to adopt one new patient-centered communication skill within 2014. 

Sign-up to learn more about this one-of-a-kind “Challenge”:

Sources:

Koenig, C. J. (2011). Patient Resistance as A in Treatment Decisions. Social Science & Medicine (1982), 72(7), 1105-14.Johnson, J, et al. (2005) Factors Associated with Medication Nonadherence in Patients With COPD. Chest. 128(5).

Wilson, I. et al. (2007). Physician – Patient Communication About Prescription Medication Nonadherence: A 50-State Study of America’s Seniors. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 22(1), 6-12

Johnson, J, et al. (2005) Factors Associated with Medication Nonadherence in Patients With COPD. Chest. 128(5).

Zolnierek, H. et al. (2009) Physician Communication and Patient Adherence to Treatment: A Meta-Analysis. Medical Care. 47(8), 826-834.

Sarkar, U., et al. (2011). Patient-Physicians’ Information Exchange in Outpatient Cardiac Care: Time for a Heart to Heart? Patient Education and Counseling, 85(2), 173-9.

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Shared Decision Making – Not Ready For Prime Time – Nor Evidently Is Patient-Centered Care

When it comes to delivering truly patient-centered care…how are providers supposed to know when they have “arrived”?   According to Michael Berry, MD, President of the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation, providers will know they have achieved the “pinnacle of patient-centered care” when they routinely engage their patients in shared decision-making (SDM).

Pinnicle of patient-centered communications

In theory, shared decision-making (aka collaborative decision-making) is what is supposed to happen between patients and their doctors when faced with a difficult choice.  Clinicians engaging in shared decision-making would provide patients with information pertaining to the need for the treatment, the available options, as well as the benefits and risks.  But patient-centered clinicians would also do something else. They would attempt to work with patients to arrive at a decision they could both live with.  A kind of “shared mind” that takes into consideration their clinical perspective as well as the patient’s perspective – their preferences, needs, and values (which ideally have been captured over the course of the patient-provider relationship).

The Problem Is That Most Physicians Don’t Really Engage Patients In Either Shared Decision Making  

 A 2003 study surveyed U.S. physicians (N=1,217) preferences and actual practices regarding shared decision-making.  Table 1 presents a summary of findings from this study.

Table 1

Decision Making Style

What Physicians Preferred

What Physicians Actually Do

Shared decision-making

58%

37%

Physician-dominant decision-making

28%

43%

No patient involvement

9%

13%

Patient dominant decision-making

5%

7%

While most physicians in the study may philosophically believe in and prefer shared decision-making…as this data indicates that is not what most physicians in the study reported actually doing.  In fact, 56% of physicians reported that they actually engaged in decision-making that was physician-dominated (with some patient involvement) or totally physician-dominated decision-making behavior (absent any patient involvement).

The Barriers To Shared Decision Making?

The barriers to SDM include the usual suspects:

  •  Lack of time during the visit
  • Not having access to the right decision support aids tools and training their use
  • Physician attitudes about patient’s willingness to engage in shared decision-making
  • Provider reliance upon a physician-directed (versus patient-centered) style of communicating with patients

AdoptOneBigButtonThe Take Away – Why Shared Decision Making Matters

  •  SDM is the right thing to do – the benefits associated with SDM include better outcomes, lower utilization and cost, lower malpractice risk and enhanced patient trust and satisfaction
  •  SDM is a great way to be engaging to patients – it is a way to get patients involved in their care in a meaningful way they can relate to.
  • To be eligible to participate in Medicare’s Shared Savings Program, Accountable Care Organizations must implement processes to promote patient engagement, including shared decision-making.

As readers of Mind the Gap know, I am a proponent of the adoption of patient-centered communication by providers, beginning with primary care.   Shared decision-making has rightly been identified as a leading indicator when it comes to assessing the “patient-centeredness’ of a physician practice.   So before you go around telling everyone how patient-centered your provider teams are first do a reality check.  Because if you aren’t regularly engaging your patients in shared decision making you are not there yet.

That’s my opinion…what’s your?

Sources:

Heisler, M. et al. Physicians’ participatory decision-making and quality of diabetes care processes and outcomes: results from the triad study. Chronic Illness. 2009 Sep;5(3):165-76

Street, R. et al  The importance of communication in collaborative decision making: facilitating shared mind and the management of uncertainty. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 17 (2011) 579–584.

Frosch, D., et al. An Effort To Spread Decision Aids In Five California Primary Care Practices Yielded Low Distribution, Highlighting Hurdles. Health Affairs. 32, no.2 (2013):311-320.

3 First Principles For Evaluating Patient-Facing HIT Solutions

With the HIMSS13 Conference next week we can expect to hear a lot about how health information technology (HIT) and e-Health is expected to challenge and change the way health care now and in years to come.  To be sure great strides have been made in the adoption of electronic medical records, decision support, and patient web portals… with the promise of more to come.  Health Apps, in spite of their painfully slow uptake by many consumers, press forward with innovative new toimagesols.

Yet in order to realize the full promise of patient-facing like EMRs, PHRs, patient portals and the like, we need to be more mindful of the following “first principles.”

First Principles #1 – Health care delivery and healing occurs in the context of interpersonal relationships.

Today, as in the past, health care is delivered within the context of interpersonal relationships, e.g., the physician-patient relationship.  Sir William Osler, the father of modern medicine, recognized this along with the importance of a clinician’s communication skills when he said “listen to the patient and they will tell you what is wrong.”   Today, as in Osler’s time, encouraging patients to “tell their story” is the hallmark of good communication skills.  Eliciting the patient’s story is also a hallmark of strong healing relationships…since the simple act of “talking” and “feeling heard” have been shown to have clear therapeutic benefits.

The same is true with the intensely interpersonal act of “laying on of hands.”  “Touch” as a method of healing dates back to biblical times and beyond.   Today, physicians like Abraham Verghese, MD continue to speak to about therapeutic value of touch as practiced during patient exams in both the hospital and ambulatory settings.  These same physicians caution us against losing sight of the central role and value of the physician-patient relationship in the false belief that technology will one day be capable of replacing the personal physician.

First Principles #2 – HIT cannot compensate for weak physician-patient relationships or poor physician-patient communication skills.   

We hear today about how primary care physicians are very busy…and getting even busier.  EMR systems, e-visits, decision support tools, patient portals and the like are touted as solutions for saving time, increasing quality, etc.  While all this may be true, a great EMR system or secure e-mail visits cannot turn a physician with sub-optimal patient communication skills into a patient-centered Marcus Welby, MD.  It will probably make things worse.

Absent strong, physician-patient relationships and equally strong patient-centered communication skills, such HIT investments are like building castles upon sand.

Another hallmark of patient-centered communication is a “meeting of the minds” between patients and their physicians regarding issues like the visit agenda, the accuracy and severity of the diagnosis and which treatment options will work best.  Unfortunately since many physicians today continue to employ a physician-directed style of communicating with patients…the patient’s perspective is seldom sought…and a meeting of the minds never has a chance to occur.   Even if EMRs accommodated the patient’s perspective, the clinician first has to ask the patient…and that just isn’t happening.

 First Principles #3 – Beware of unintended consequences

Many HIT professionals will quickly dismiss the above first principles cited above in the name of improving physician productivity.  After all, given today’s shortage of primary care physicians we have no choice but to layer on more HIT like EMRS and self-help patient portals.  But as with anything, one needs to be prepared for the consequences.  And there are always consequences.

In addition to improving productivity, health care professionals cite patient engagement as yet another reason to invest in HIT.  But is that really the case?

We have all seen the research citing how patients would “like” secure e-mail with their doctor, online appointment scheduling, access to their doctor’s notes, etc.   Who in their right mind would not like this?  But liking is not the same as using.  Of perhaps more importance is the finding that the vast majority of patients (85%) want to know that they will still have the ability to see their doctor face-to-face when needed after they have access to the above conveniences .   People aren’t dumb.  We/they know that technology is increasingly getting in between us/them and our/their physician.  Provider organizations that try and channel patients into substituting web portals and PHRs for physician office visits run the risk of pushing patients/members into the waiting arms of their competitors.

A recent study of decision support tools underscores yet another unintended consequence – loss of trust in their physician.  Interestingly, certain patients saw the use of computer decision support tools as a reflection of their physician’s clinical knowledge.   That is, physicians that used decision support tools were perceived as being less knowledgeable than physicians that didn’t employ them.  Since clinical skills are a driver of patient trust, the risk of encouraging physicians to “engage” patients by using decision support tools is that you may well be disengaging them by increasing their distrust.

So What’s The Take Away?

We need to recognize that there are fundamental first principles concerning the delivery of healing and health care.  To that extent that HIT professionals and those that write the checks for HIT understand these principles one has a better chance of meeting their expectations.

Here are three questions that need to be considered when evaluating any patient-facing HIT solution:

  1. Does technology support or detract from the physician-patient relationship in a meaningful way?
  2. Does the technology presuppose the presence of strong physician-patient relations and physician-patient communication skills?
    Do you even know what kind of patient communication skills your physicians have?
  3. What are the potential unintended consequences of adopting the proposed technology?

That’s what I think…what’s your opinion?

Sources

Agarwa, R. et al.   If We Offer it, Will They Accept? Factors Affecting Patient Use Intentions of Personal Health Records and Secure Messaging.    Journal of Medical Internet Research 2013;15(2):e43.

Want Your ACO To Succeed? …Then You Better Focus On Improving How Your Doctors & Patients Communicate

The basic premise of the Accountable Care Organizations is simple enough.  By incentivizing providers (physicians and hospitals) to assume financial responsibility for coordinating the health care of a defined patient population, it is possible to increase the quality of care while decreasing the cost of care delivery.

For ACOs to succeed, experts tell us that 3 things are required: 1) health information technology is needed to track and manage patient populations, 2) redesigned care delivery processes are needed to support patient care coordination, and 3) the right set of provider financial incentives must be in place.

do thisBut The “Experts” Have Overlooked Perhaps The Most Important Requirement

The improvements in quality and cost effectiveness in large part are predicated upon providers being able to engage patients with the goal of changing their health behavior.  

The problem is that most physicians lack the patient-centered communication skills needed to engage patients in their own health care not to mention persuade patients to change their health behavior. 

An Example – Physician and Patient “Meeting of the Minds” 

I think we can all agree that “telling patients what to do” is not an effective patient engagement or behavior management strategy.  After all, if patients don’t agree with or understand the rationale for a recommendation from their doctor, they are not likely to comply with it.

Rather, a meeting of the minds by physicians and patients is needed…and that requires physicians  understanding the patient’s perspective.  The evidence bears this out.  Higher ratings of trust, satisfaction, and intention to adhere occur when patients see themselves as similar to their physicians in personal beliefs, values, and communication.[1]

The problem is that physicians and patients often disagree on even the most fundamental issues…and herein lies the problem:

  • Doctors & patients disagree on the principal reasons for office visits 53% of the time.[2]
  • There is “substantial discordance” between the problems patients describe to physicians and the symptoms that physicians document in the EMR.[3]
  • For diabetic patients who cited pain or depression as their top health concern their physicians rated these conditions “as likely to affect the patient’s health outcomes” in only 9% and 32% of cases respectively. (Remember, 95% of the treatment for diabetes is patient self care). [4]
  • 41% of patients disagree with their physician as to whether their presenting symptoms represented a psychological versus a medical problem. [5]
  • Physician perceptions of “how pleased, cheerful, relieved, worried, angry, and disappointed” they thought the patients were during office visits differed significantly from patient rating of how they actually felt. [6]
  • Physicians tend to underestimate the patient’s desire for health information in 65% of visits.[6]

So What’s The Take Away?

Many physicians today are ill prepared to assume the role or financial responsibility of care coordination (or care management) given their lack of patient-centered communication skills.  Notice I didn’t mention lack of time since effective use of patient-centered communication skills over time can actually save providers time.

Unless and until medical groups, hospitals, health plans, CMS, and ACOs address this critical shortcoming through providing physicians with the  training, tools and resources needed to develop and refine patient-centered communication skills, ACOs will not deliver on their promise of more effective and efficient medical care.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Sources:

[1] Street, R. et al. (2008) Understanding Concordance in Patient-Physician Relationships: Personal and Ethnic Dimensions of Shared Identity. Annals of Family Medicine. 6:198-205.

[2] Greer, J. and H. R. (2006). Predictors of Physician-Patient Agreement on Symptom Etiology in Primary Care. Psychosomatic Medicine, 282, 277-282.

[3] Stein, T. et al. (1999) Inaccuracies in physicians’ perceptions of their patients. Medical Care.  Nov;37(11):1164-8.

[4] Keulers, B. J., Scheltinga, M. R. M., Houterman, S., Van Der Wilt, G. J., & Spauwen, P. H. M. (2008). Surgeons underestimate their patients’ desire for preoperative information. World Journal of Surgery, 32(6), 964-70.

[4] Street, R. et al. (2008) Understanding Concordance in Patient-Physician Relationships: Personal and Ethnic Dimensions of Shared Identity. Annals of  Family Medicine, 6:198-205.

[5] Freidin, R., et al. (1980). Patient Physician Concordance in Problem Identification. Annals of Internal Medicine, (93), 490-493.

[6]Stein, T. et al., Inaccuracies in Physicians’ Perceptions of Their Patients.  Medical Care. 1999 Nov;37(11):1164-8.

[7] Pakhomov, S. et al. (2008). Agreement between Patient-reported Symptoms and their Documentation in the Medical Record. American Journal Of Managed Care, 14(8), 530-539.

The 10 Commandments of Patient Engagement

As a patient, care giver, researcher and a human being, here ‘s my “take” on what physicians and hospitals, and all the entities that work with them like health plans, ACOs , etc. need to do to effectively increase patient engagement in 2013 and beyond.

Tweet to Hospitals

  1. Act like you are glad to see them (patients) and have time for them… no matter how busy you really are
  2. Say something relevant to suggest that you actually remember who they are – don’t get this one wrong
  3. Ask how they have been since their last appointment and what brings them in to see you today
  4. Probe for the patient’s ideas as to the cause of their complaints and what they would like you to do for them
  5. Listen to what the patient has to say without interruption – ask clarifying questions
  6. Tell the patient what you recommend doing in the way of tests, treatments and new medications…and explain why you are making those recommendations – ask if that’s ok with the patient…if it’s not ok find out why
  7. Pay attention to patient-initiated cues (loss of a job or loved one, sighing…) – they probably are a call for help
  8. Express empathy and support to patients
  9. Find out what your patient’s health goals are and what steps they believe they can take to achieve them, e.g.,  care planning
  10. Ask about or suggest ways that you and your team can support  patients’ long-term care plans

AdoptOneBigButtonThe challenge most physicians and other providers face is not one of how to engage patients.  Most of us patients (people) are already engaged to the extent we:

  • went to the bother of calling your staff to make an appointment (never a pleasant experience)
  • took time off work to travel to your office
  • wait an average of 24 minutes to see you
  • sit for 24 minutes thinking about what we want to talk with you about and how you are too busy to listen

Rather the challenge for providers is how to be engaging to patients.  Health care after all is an intensely personal and social interaction between human beings.   My apology to all the health information technology folks who suggest EMRs, web portals and smart phone health apps are the best way to engage patients (they are not).  I for one am convinced that people would be more engaged in the care (they way providers expect and prefer) if only providers were more engaging…lack of time and reimbursement notwithstanding.

I am sure I have missed something so please feel free to add to the list.

Check out more posts on Patient Engagement:

Patient Engagement Is A Physician-Patient Communication Challenge…Not A Health Information Technology Challenge

 Patients Are Often More Engaged In Their Health Than Providers Think

Patent Portals. PHRs, & On-line Decision-Support Tools Alone Will Not Lead To Greater Patient Engagement

Patient Engagement  Infographic