Tag Archives: patient question-asking

First Principle of Patient Engagement & Patient Portals– Be “Relevant” From The Patient’s Perspective

One of the biggest challenges facing health care providers today when it comes to engaging patients is RELEVANCE…or more specifically the lack of it.   I say “engaging” because any one presenting in the doctor’s office, visiting a patient portal or using a smart phone health app is already engaged in their health.   By engaged I mean they are already cognitively involved in their health to a certain extent with an end Relevantpoint or goal in mind, i.e., learn something, do something or decide about something.   Face it, who do you know that goes to the doctor’s office just for fun.  There is always a reason…and behind that reason is cognition, e.g., intellectual engagement.

Fact – 82% of U.S.  adults see their personal physician at least once a year (avg. is 3 visits/year) and yet experts tell us that most of us are still  unengaged in our health.  What’s with that?

Relevance Is Important In The Doctor’s Office

Now imagine a 55 years old person going into their doctor’s office because of a persistent headache and back pain.  Before deciding to see the doctor they probably talked with their family or friends about their concerns. Maybe they went online to research their concerns before making a doctor’s appointment.  Now imagine that same person in the exam room and all the doctor wants to talk about is the patient’s risk for colon cancer and the need for an overdue colonoscopy.  Bam. Instant patient disengagement.

AdoptOneBigButtonTo be sure, the clinician in this scenario is legitimately trying to “engage” the patient by getting them to comply with a recommended, evidence-based screening.  But there is a disconnect in this scenario between what the person (patient) wants to talk about during their office visit…and what the clinician wants’ to discuss.  The disconnect? A lack of relevance.  What the clinician wants to talk about is not nearly as relevant to the patient as it is to the clinician and that’s a problem.

Here’s another example of a common physician-patient disconnect.  Using the same scenario, imagine that the person/patient concerns regarding their headache and back pain have to do with how these symptoms are affecting their vision (ability to drive), their gait, their ability to sleep at night and their appetite.  For the person/patient, their quality of life is suffering as a consequence of their complaints.

Now consider that physicians – at least those with a physician- or disease- oriented style of communicating with patients (which make up 2/3s of primary care physician) – will focus during the medical exam on the biomedical causes of the patient’s complaints rather than the quality of life issues of concern to the person/patient.  Also realize that most patients are now very good or willing to interrupt or correct their physicians.  Bam. Bam. Instant patient disengagement.

Once again, while what the clinician focuses on may be the cause of the patient’s problems, it’s not relevant to the patient that wants to know how the doctor will fix their loss of vision, gait, sleeping and appetite.

This same scenario is played out every day in physician offices across the country.  Disagreement over the visit agenda isn’t the only reason for communication disconnects or gaps.  Lack of physician-patient agreement is also common when it comes to:

• What’s wrong
• Diagnostic tests needed
• Accuracy of the diagnosis
• Severity of the diagnosis
• Cause of diagnosis
• Appropriateness of the recommended treatment
• Expected efficacy of the recommended treatment
• Need for a specialist referral

Relevance Is Just As Important To Patient Portals

Finally, imagine that the Electronic Medical Records and Open Notes detailing the above scenarios are available to the person/patient via a patient portal.   Imagine also that the HIT folks used the patient’s diagnosis and doctor’s notes to “trigger” personalized, tailored health information for the patient.   That means that the patient is sent messages about this risk of colon cancer, information about diet and colon health and a coupon for a colonoscopy.

Now ask yourself…how in God’s name is the information provided via the patient portal in this scenario relevant or engaging from the person/patient perspective?  Explain to me how the information in the EMR and Open Notes is relevant to the patient if its ignored?  It’s not…and people/patients need only look at their patient portal once to figure that out.

The Take Away?

HIT’s current attempts at patient engagement remind me of the parable of “putting old wine (same old information) in to new wine skins (patient portals). The wine’s going to go bad and few will drink it. The solution is to add relevant, “patient-centered” wine into the new wine skins.

Patient engagement is not an HIT challenge…it is a physician-patient communication challenge. As such, the role of the clinician is to engage patients…but rather to be engaging or at the very least avoid disengaging patients.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Patient Activation Is Only Half The Solution – Physicians Need To Be Activated As Well

Not long ago Nick Dawson, a friend and fellow blogger, paid me the compliment of saying I had inspired a post of his.   Well Nick now you have inspired me…and this post is the result.

Regarding the February Health Affairs edition on Patient Engagement the and follow-on Washington D.C. briefing, Nick writes:

Personally, I was disheartened by some word choices. Implying patients need to be activated suggests patients are passive and something has to be done to them in order for them to care about their health and interactions with healthcare providers. That misses the mark.

What about physician activation? … We should be helping health systems and providers find ways to reduce the stress and fear for patients who are already engaged.

Nick is right. 

The “Belle of the Health Affairs Ball” based on the social media coverage was Judith Hibbard’s interesting work linking health care costs to a person’s level of health activation.   While Dr. Hibbard takes pains to differentiate “activation” from “engagement,” most people are quick to conflate the two.  (Patient-centered communication bears a close resemblance to patient activation as well.)  Nick’s point is that focusing just on what the patient brings to the party in terms of their “knowledge, skills and confidence” is only half the problem.

What about physician activation?  Where in the Health Affairs special, or anywhere else for that matter, are discussions about the need to make sure that physicians (and other clinicians) have the knowledge, skills and confidence to effectively manage all the “already engaged” patients among us?

It Can’t Just Be About Fixing Patient Behavior

For too long, the focus among health care thought leaders has been all about fixing the patient.   If only patient were more engaged, more knowledgeable, more compliant, more trusting, more prepared, ask more questions, etc. 

There is a significant body of research which suggests that provider behaviors (like their communication style) are just as responsible as patients for many of the short coming in health care today.

Just as PAM research has shown that more activated patients generate lower costs…studies have shown that the physicians with strong patient-centered communication skills have lower costs as well.   I guess you could say that physicians with a physician-directed, bio-medical communication style have an equivalent of a 1-2 level of activation whereas physicians with a patient-centered communication style have an equivalent activation level of 3 to 4.

Pt Centered Communications and Outcomes2

Which Comes First – Activated Physicians Or Activated Patients?

I would argue that the real challenge facing providers today is to how to avoid disengaging or deactivating otherwise engaged and activated patients.

That’s because most people are already engaged in their own care, albeit not necessarily in the same way that providers want or expect.   So too, patients may well believe that they have the skills and knowledge they feel they need to deal with their own health…even if it is different from those skills, etc. measured by tools like PAM.

See : Patients Are Often More Engaged In Their Health Than Providers Think

In fact there is evidence to support this.  Patients with a regular source of care displayed significantly lower levels of patient activation that those without a regular source of care.  According to the researchers, “one possible explanation is that respondents with a regular physician are more likely to take a passive, deferential role in their care, believing their health care needs are being met by their provider(s).” *

The degree to which there is a “meeting of the minds” on engagement and activation between patient and physician, particularly during the office visit, will determine if patients are as engaged and activated when they leave the doctor’s office as they were when they entered.  It all boils down to how well the physician and patient are able to communicate.

Here’s what I mean.  How engaged or activated is a person going to be if what they have to say is interrupted, ignored or otherwise dismissed by busy, stressed  clinicians?  Is a patient going to share information or new skills they found on the internet with their physician if they are dismissed as a Googler?

The Take Away?

Nothing against PAM or Dr. Hibbard’s work which stand on its own merits.  Rather, it’s about health care being a two-way affair…with patients and clinicians both have a stake in health outcomes.  The sooner health care providers, academic researchers, and health publications like Health Affairs realize this…the sooner things can improve.

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

Sources:

Levinson, W., Lesser, C. S., & Epstein, R. M. (2010). Developing physician communication skills for patient-centered care. Health Affairs, 29(7).

Olson, D. P., & Windish, D. M. (2010). Communication discrepancies between physicians and hospitalized patients. Archives of Internal Medicine, 170(15), 1302-7. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2010.239

Roumie, C. L., Greevy, R., Wallston, K. a, Elasy, T. a, Kaltenbach, L., Kotter, K., Dittus, R. S., et al. (2010). Patient centered primary care is associated with patient hypertension medication adherence. Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Bertakis, K. D., & Azari, R. (2011). Patient-centered care is associated with decreased health care utilization. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine: JABFM, 24(3), 229-39.

* Alexander, J. a, Hearld, L. R., Mittler, J. N., & Harvey, J. (2011). Patient-Physician Role Relationships and Patient Activation among Individuals with Chronic Illness. Health Services Research, 1-23.

Here’s Why You Should Ask Your Doctor To Show You Any “Alerts” In Your Electronic Medical Record

Electronic medical records (EMRs) make a lot of sense.  Ideally they capture, store, and report on all the pertinent information that’s floating around out there concerning your health.   One of the supposed advantages of EMRs is their ability to sort through vast quantities of health data to “alert” physicians to important gaps in your care.

Alerts are triggered when something in your EMR is flagged (think red flag) indicating that something that is supposed to happen to you has not yet happened….and vice versa    For example, EMRs can alert physicians when you are overdue for a screening test.  They can also alert physicians to lab and radiology test results that need to be followed up on.

It Is A Great Way To Engage Patients

Since everyone is so concerned about getting patients more engaged in their health care…why not start by turning the computer screen around and showing patients the “alerts” in their EMR.   I am sure that will get most patients’ attention.

Here’s why this is necessary

A study in a recent issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that care gaps persisted among primary care physicians using EMRs and alerts.   Researchers found that:

  • Physicians failed to follow-up abnormal lab test results in a timely fashion (<30 days) in 7% to 62% of patients
  • Physicians failed to follow-up abnormal radiology test results in a timely fashion in 1% to 36% of patients.

Remember these where practices in which the EMR system was capable of generating electronic alerts telling the treating physicians that action was needed.  These follow-up rates are not all that different from similar studies of physician practices without EMRs.

The lack of timely follow-up by physicians reported in these studies resulted in otherwise preventable hospitalizations and delays in initiating time-sensitive cancer diagnosis and treatment.

In my wife’s case, her Non Small Cell Lung Cancer was identified in a hospital employee health screening when it was Stage 1… yet she was not told of the finding for some 5 years later at which time she was Stage 4.  This despite a “paper copy” of the radiologist report (chest X-ray) being sent to her PCP, OB-GYN and Employee Health Medical Director.

Why The Lack Of Timely Follow-Up?  

Researchers have found that primary care physicians in integrated delivery systems receive an average of 57 alerts per day.  Among the reason given for the lack of timely follow-up, despite the alerts, were the following:

  •  Physicians were found to be less likely to acknowledge alerts when they are behind schedule.
  • Physicians focused their attention on alerts concerning patients with greater “clinical burdens” (e.g., providers were more likely to acknowledge alerts about elderly or highly co morbid patients).
  • Physician lack of knowledge – physician knowledge of EMR alert-management features in one study ranged between 4% and 75%. Almost half (46%) of providers did not use any of these features, and none used more than two.  Put another way, many physicians don’t know how to use all the features of their EMR system.
  • Physicians ignored or turned the alert function off

The Take Away?

If you are a patient in a practice that uses an EMR, politely tell your physician that you would like to see any alerts that pertain to you.  If there aren’t any – fine.  If there are, simply ask your doctor what’s the plan for addressing the outstanding issue.  He or she may well have a good reason for ignoring the alert which I am sure they would be happy to explain to you.

If you are a patient in a “pencil and paper” practice, ask your physician what his/her policy is regarding test result notification, including timeliness.  Ask what their policies and procedures are to make sure that no one – particularly you – falls through the cracks.  Never leave your doctor’s office without a copy of all your test results!

If you are a physician with an EMR system…learn how to use the darn thing. Your patients will appreciate you for it and I dare say you prevent what happened to my wife and me.

That’s what I think.  What’s Your Opinion?

Sources:

Hysong, S.  et al.  Provider management strategies of abnormal test result alerts: a cognitive task analysis.  Journal American Medical Informatics  Association. 2010;17:71–77.

Singh, H. et al.  Timely Follow-up of Abnormal Diagnostic Imaging Test Results in an Outpatient Setting.  Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009;169(17):1578-1586

Sittig, D. et al. Improving Test Result Follow-up through Electronic Health Records Requires More than Just an Alert.  Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2012 Oct;27(10):1235-7.

The Traditional Patient “Sick Role” Is A Major Barrier To High Quality Health Care

Each of us wears many different “hats” throughout the course of the day.  We are an employee, a wife, a father, a club member, a consumer and so on.   It comes as no surprise that our thinking, what we say, and how we say it at any particular time coincides with the hat we are wearing at that moment.   The thing about these “hats” or roles is that they come with their own set of social conventions, particularly when it comes to how we communicate.   When I was a kid for example “children were to be seen and not heard” when out in public.

So it is when we put on our patient hat – something we all do from time to time, particularly as we get older.

Unfortunately few of the roles we play come with a book of instructions.  Rather we learn them from experience or by watching others.

Think back to your first visits to the doctor – when your Mom took you to the pediatrician.  If your experiences were like mine you learned very early on that the doctor did all the talking (aka physician-directed style of communication). That’s because the doctor’s role was that of “respected expert” and my Mom’s role (and by default mine) was to play the sick role.   Much was required or expected of the person playing “sick role”…you just were there to listen and then do as told.  My Mom never was one to be passive or  quiet in most social situations but when it came to being a patient (surrogate) or a real patient in later years…she would have won an Academy Award for playing the sick role to perfection.

Believe it or not, when I have to put my patient hat on…I am no different.  In another post, I described waiting 2 hours to see a new Retinal Surgeon who was said to be very good.   The longer I waited the fewer the questions I decided to ask him…he appear too busy to spend time with little ole me answering my questions.   I couldn’t believe how easily I slipped into the sick role!  I suspect that, contrary to all the talk in the literature about how empowered everyone is…we patients basically all behave the same way when the exam room door closes.

This point was driven home for me in a recent Health Affairs article that talked about “Patient’s Fear of Being Labeled Difficult.”  The basis for the article was a series of patient focus groups conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area – the heart of Silicon Valley and all things involving digital health.   One finding stuck me – that most participants in the study talked about how they actively tried to avoid challenging their physicians during office visits.   

Deference to authority instead of genuine partnership appeared to be the participants’ mode of working.

Mind you the participants in the research were “wealthy, highly educated people from an affluent suburb in California, generally thought to be in a position of considerable social privilege and therefore more likely than others to be able to assert themselves.”  These patients were recruited from Palo Alto Medical Foundation physician practices … one of the most wired health populations in the US!

But.. But.. Everyone Is Supposed To Be Empowered and Activated?  

Baloney.  The patients in the study were socialized into the same sick role as the rest of us.  Deference and passivity, at least while in the exam room with the physician, are dead giveaway signs of sick role behavior.   Too be sure these people did go online after they left the doctor’s office to do what they should have done with their doctor – ask important questions.   Did you know that during the average primary care office visit patients ask very few “important” questions?

The Finding Should Be Concerning To All Of Us

Talking (and listening) is how physicians diagnose and treat patients.  If patients are deferential (due to fear , concern about taking up too much time, etc.) to  their physician to the point that they don’t share valuable information, don’t ask challenging questions and don’t engage in collaborative decision-making  then something is very wrong.   The net result is sub-optimal outcomes, medical errors, preventable ER visits and hospital readmits and poor patient experiences.

The Take Away

The first step is for providers to recognize the scope of the problem and the need to fix it.  The second step is for providers to examine their own attitudes and skills with respect to helping patients break out of the sick role into a more collaborative role.  Third, providers and their hospital partners need to acquire the tools, training, and resources needed to help patients as well as themselves design and adapt to their new hats, roles, and social conventions.

That’s What I Think…What’s Your Opinion?

Source:

Frosch, D. et al.   Authoritarian Physicians And Patients’ Fear Of Being Labeled ‘Difficult’ Among Key Obstacles To Shared Decision Making. Health Affairs.  No. 5 (2012): 10301038

Challenge #1 For Health Care Providers – Way Too Much Information And Way Too Little Communication With Patients

One of the biggest problems with health care today is that there is way too much information and way too little communications going on between providers and patients.

Here’s a great quote that explains what I mean:

The two words information and communication are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.

Sydney Harris,  Journalist

I was reminded of this and the quote from “Cool Hand Luke” quote in an exchange I had with a primary care physician on LinkedIn recently.   In that exchange, which dealt with long-term physician-patient relationships, I hypothesized that intentional non-adherence may be the by-product of situations in which physicians and patients in long-term relationships simply grow to distrust each other.

The good doctor commented as follows:

In the end, it is the patient’s decision to be compliant or not, yet many physicians continue to care for these patients because someone must. Would the patient comply better with a new doctor? I doubt it.

I replied to the good doctor’s comment as follows:

True…the decision to comply or not is up to patients.  But the evidence shows that compliance is not a product simply of bad patient behavior. Non-compliance is an outcome for which both physician and patient have shared responsibility.

I suggest that most people would be a lot more likely to comply if they: 1) understood and agreed with the need for the prescription and 2) believed that the benefits of taking the medication outweighed the risks and concerns. But these issues are seldom brought up by the physician or the patient, due to limited time, provider attitudes and beliefs about patient, and so on.”

Then he dropped the A-bomb – a move intended to silence anyone who would dare challenge physician authority and learnedness:

A professional who deals with this on a daily basis can explain meds, conditions, etc. very quickly and to the satisfaction of the patient.

That’s when it occurred to me…too much information and not enough communication

No doubt most providers today are proficient at quickly giving information to patients (including telling them what to do).  What most providers (and people in general) are not good at is effectively communicating, e.g.,  getting through, with patients (or each other).   Anyone who has ever been married knows the difference between information giving and communicating.

And how would the good doctor know that his patients understood the information he gave them…not to mention their being satisfied with it?   Surely he’s not banking his revenue going forward under P4P on his patient satisfaction surveys alone.

If anything, the weight of evidence suggests that his patients probably do not understand the information he quick doles out and probably are not particularly  satisfied with it.   Like many of us, his patients probably do not want to confront the good doctor choosing instead to ignore his recommendations or seek advice elsewhere, e.g., no-adherence.

But as with any good relationship, effective spouse-centered (I mean patient-centered) communications is key.   To truly engage the other party, you have to know where they are coming from, what’s important to them and never, never ask them to do more than they are willing and able to do.  I had to say that since my wife “proof reads” my blog posts…lol).

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