Tag Archives: physician-patient communication. doctor-patient communication

The Power Of Conversations Between Physicians And Patients

People always ask me how I got started with my work in physician-patient communications. Like so many people, I had a story that I felt needed to be told. Much of my inspiration over the course of the last five years of writing Mind the Gap have come from my wife and my journey as we deal with her Stage IV Lung Cancer.

But there was also a video I saw back in my blog’s early days that really gave me a sense of direction. A video featuring Maggie Breslin, at Mayo Clinic’s Transform 2009 Symposium. (Maggie is no longer with Mayo) At the time I was so taken with Maggie’s presentation that I pick up the phone and spoke with her about her “Power of Conversations” experiences. Well I rediscovered that video in a recent guest blog post on Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation Blog. The piece was written by by Nolan Meyer, a student at the University of Minnesota Rochester .

Here is Nolan’s post which includes the video. I hope it inspires you as much as it does me.

If you were to guess why patients consistently return to the Mayo Clinic and recommend the Mayo Clinic to friends and family, what reason would you venture? Unparalleled medical expertise? Superior technology? Prestige? Tropical weather conditions?

In contrast, the number one reason is not solely due to the excellent quality of care they receive. It is not that they receive pioneering procedures at a world-class academic medical facility, nor is it space-age medical technology. It’s not that they were prescribed miracle medications that exist nowhere else.

The reason patients return to Mayo Clinic is that providers here take the time to connect with their patients—to talk with them and ensure all their patients’ questions are answered. This connection forged between Mayo Clinic healthcare staff and their patients ensures the concerns of patients and their families are understood and fully addressed. Although the Mayo Clinic is a premiere and world-class academic medical institution, the meaningful connections made here between providers and patients are what bring people back again and again.

In a time of healthcare reform, extensive regulations, standardization, and malpractice suits, when many healthcare institutions have turned to emphasize numbers of patients seen over the overall quality of healthcare delivery, the Mayo Clinic has remained steadfast in its familiar maxim: “The needs of the patient come first.”

“I believe that if we make satisfying conversations and human connection the focus of our healthcare delivery development—if we make connecting people and having them talk to each other the single most important metric by which we judge all of our efforts—we will get everything else we want our healthcare system to be. Rich conversation is the pathway to quality, to efficiency, to affordability… when we have good conversations, we are practicing individualized medicine in its most authentic—it’s most human—form.”

Maggie Breslin, in a research-and-design effort put forth by the Center for Innovation’s Spark Design Lab, set out to find and address elements that enhance or impede quality of healthcare delivery. Maggie was granted access to observe healthcare interactions in various departments of the Mayo Clinic. During her time working on this project, Maggie observed thousands of healthcare interactions ranging from the mundane to the life-changing. Maggie observed everything from annual influenza vaccinations, to radiological studies, to discussions of unforeseen treatment complications, to emotionally wrenching diagnoses of debilitating conditions.

These thousands of observed interactions qualifies Maggie to tell us what quality healthcare delivery looks like, and according to her, it looks like a satisfying conversation. According to Maggie, quality healthcare delivery is “the most human thing you’ve ever seen in your life!” Working on this groundbreaking project, Maggie became familiar with four powerful insights regarding conversation in healthcare:

Conversation is how people determine quality and value.
Conversation has therapeutic value.
Conversation allows us to deal with ambiguity.
People seek out conversation, even when we make it hard for them.

While some of these observations may seem intuitive, they have fallen by the wayside in many modern medical institutions. The power of a simple conversation in a medical setting seems to have been deemed “nice-to-have,” but unnecessary and extraneous by many modern designers of healthcare delivery. This is an unfortunate trend, as the importance of translating advanced scientific and medical knowledge from provider to patient is more important now than ever. Maggie asserts that these satisfying conversations are not a “nice-to-have,” an extra, an unnecessary and time-consuming luxury in modern medicine. Quite the contrary: satisfying conversations are what Maggie calls “the very essence of healthcare delivery.”

Maggie relates a story in which she and her colleagues set about the hospital in search of factors which enhance or impede human connection. Her team found a startling pattern: the presence of human connection in healthcare delivery was, by and large, the result of the actions of outgoing individuals. In contrast, the absence of human connection was the result of often-unforeseen systematic hurdles. Maggie argues that in modern medicine, too many decisions are being made in the name of efficiency, standardization, legal requirements, documentation, and numbers.

All of these decisions contribute to the construction of what Maggie calls a wall between providers and patients. The inspiring thing, though, is that both patients and providers make what Maggie calls a Herculean effort to jump over that wall and find ways to connect with one another.

The Mayo Clinic’s efforts to recognize and address impediments to meaningful patient-provider interactions are an example of how it strives to provide the best patient care possible. Maggie Breslin calls on everyone involved in healthcare delivery and its design to ask themselves one question as they do their work: what kind of conversation will result from this concept? If the answer is “a better conversation,” then have that mean something!

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Satisfaction With Provider Communication In Recent Study Is Lower In Patient Center-Medical Homes (PCMH) Than Non-PCMH

A recent blog headline on the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC) recently caught my attention. It was entitled Patient Satisfaction With Medical Home Quality High. I was intrigued. I asked myself high compared to what? Non-PCMH practices?

The study, which appeared in the November-December 2013 Annals of Family Medicine, asked 4,500 patients (2009 Health Center Patient Survey) of federally-support health centers their perceptions of a number of “patient-centered quality attributes,” including the following measures which the study authors defined as patient-centered communication:

  • Clinician staff listened to you?
  • Clinician staff takes enough time with you?
  • Clinician staff explains what you want to know
  • Nurses and MAs answered your questions?
  • Nurses and MAs are friendly and helpful to you?
  • Other staff is friendly and helpful to you?
  • Other staff answered your questions?

Observations About The Study

The first thing that struck me was that compared to patients in the 2012 CHAPS survey (AHRQ) website, patients in the 2009 study actually reported lower levels of 1) patient satisfaction (81% versus 91%) with their clinicians’ patient-centered attributes (including communication) and 2) willingness to recommend their providers (84% versus 89%).

The second thing I was reminded of is that patients themselves are so used to clinicians’ paternalistic, physician-directed communication style that simply allowing them to ask just one question puts the clinician in the top 5% of patient-centered communicators. Stop and ask yourself when the last time was that you encountered a physician that asked you what you thought about your medical condition? Until recently I never have been and I suspect few if any people in the study cited here have either.

[pullquote]Stop and ask yourself when the last time was that you encountered a physician that asked you what you thought about your medical condition? [/pullquote]

The final thing that struck me was that none of the quality measures used in the study captured the “essential and revolutionary meaning of what it means to be patient-centered.” As Street and Epstein point out, patient centered communication is about inviting the patient to get involved in the exam room conversation.

As articulated in hundreds of studies over the years, patient-centered communication skills include:

  • Soliciting the patient’s story
  • Visit agenda setting
  • Understanding the patient’s health perspective
  • Understanding the whole patient (biomedical and psychosocial)
  • Shared decision-making
  • Empathy

We Need To Raise The Bar For Patient-Centered Medical Homes (PCMH)

Studies like the one cited here set the quality bar (and bragging rights) way too low for PCMH. Patient-centered care has to be different than the paternalistic, physician-directed care we all seem so willing to accept. Such studies trivialize what it means for physicians and their care teams to be patient-centered in the way they relate to and communicate with people (aka patients). Patient-centeredness is a philosophy or care…and does not require team care, extended hours or care coordinators. These are great added features, but to equate such services with patient-centeredness misses the boat…something which professional groups like the PCPCC, NCQA, Joint Commission, and URAC should recognize by now.

The Take Away?

Here’s some thoughts:

1) We need to set the bar higher for PCMHs when it comes to how we define and measure patient-centered communication.

2) We need to find better ways to asses patient-centered communications in actual practice. Patient rating of a clinician’s patiient-centeredness are simply not enough. As part of the 2014 Adopt One! Challenge, we will be using audio recording of actual physician-patient exam room conversations to measure and benchmark clinicians’ patient-centered communication skills.

3) We should stop celebrating being average whether it be in PCMH setting or hospitals when it comes to physician-patient communications.
That what I think. What’s your opinion?

Sources:

Lebrun-Harris et al. Effects of Patient-Centered Medical Home Attributes On Patient’s Perception Of Quality In Federaly-Supported Health Centers. Annals of Family Medicine. 2013; 11:6; 508-516.
Street et al. The Value and Values of Patient-Centered Care. Annals of Family Medicine. 2011; 9; 100-103.

Engage Your Patients And Members Where They Are…Not Where You Wish They Were

Not long ago, Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based health care-system Dignity Health announced the Dignity Health and Box Patient Education App Challenge. In the course of the announcement, Dean is quoted as saying:

“We recognize the immense potential that (health information) technology has to enhance our patients’ care and overall experience.”

Dean’s use of the term “immense potential” with respect to patient-facing technologies like health apps and patient portals got me thinking. Immense potential compared to what? [pullquote]Dean’s use of the term “immense potential” got me thinking. Immense potential compared to what?[/pullquote]

With all the hype in the health press about the patient engagement potential of patient-facing health information technologies, one could be forgiven for thinking that HIT is the best if not only path to patient engagement. But in fact there is another way. Another more immediate, less costly and proven way. And its potential to engage patients, enhance care and improve patient experiences dwarfs the “immense potential” of patient-facing HIT by comparison.

PC Communications vs HIT
Rediscovering the Power of Physician-Patient Exam Room Conversations

Here’s what I mean. The average office-based physician engages in some 4,224 face-to-face visit-related conversations with patients each year. Depending upon their communication skills, each of these conversations represents an opportunity for physicians to engage patients, enhance care and improve patient experiences.

In the case of Dignity Health’s 11,000 physicians, assuming they see an average of 20 patients/day/physician, this comes out to:
220,000 patient visit per day , 880,000 patient visits per week 45.7 million patient visits per year

Now factor in the 3-4 complaints each patient brings to the visit along with a myriad of beliefs, fears and expectations for service (tests, referrals, new medications, and so on). I hope you are starting to realize that each patient visit is pregnant with opportunities for clinicians – your clinicians – to engage, empower and excite patients…. sometimes by doing nothing more than listening to what the patient wants to say. Remember these are real opportunities that exist in the here and now…not some promise or dream of possibilities to come.
3-4 Complaints + 2-3 Requests + 4-5 Expectations = Lots Of Opportunities To Engage Patients

At this point you might be thinking that your physicians are already leveraging these exam room opportunities to build your organization’s brand, to refer patients to your specialists and ancillary services, and to direct patients to health information on your their/your patient portal. You would probably be wrong. Not because of the limited time available during the office visit…but rather because many physicians have never been trained or provided with the communications tools needed to recognize or facilitate these kinds of opportunities. But that is the topic for a separate post.
The Patient-Facing HIT Opportunity

Now consider the opportunities in Lloyd Dean’s brave new world…a vision shared by HIT professionals health developers, vendors and their respective professional organizations.

Staying with the Dignity Health example, let’s assume that each of Dignity Health’s 11,000 doctors have patient panels of 2,300 adults and that 10% of these people use their respective patient portals or smart health apps 5 times per year (a generous assumption). This comes out to approximately 12.6 million opportunities for Dignity to engage, empower and excite patients/consumers per year.

It’s doubtful that the opportunities for meaningful engagement afforded by a patient portal or health app compare qualitatively to the opportunities possible with a face-to-face physician visit. Being able to check one’s lab tests, schedule an appointment, or refill a prescription while convenient are do not afford the same therapeutic benefits of a listening ear or the touch of a clinician’s hand.
The Take Away

The real “immense opportunity” for engaging patients, enhancing patient care and improving patient experiences lies behind the closed exam room doors of physicians. That is the most frequent point of contact health care consumers have with the health care system. It is also where truly meaningful patient engagement and memorable patient experience take place.

Engaging patients, enhancing care and improving patient experiences is not an either or choice between more health IT or better physician-patient communications. Providers will need both in the long run. HIT will enable clinicians with good patient communication skills to touch more patients and get more done. Physicians in turn will recommend that patients go to their patient portals and smart apps for health information.

Imagine the ROI that organizations like Dignity Health’s could realize from their investments in patient portals and health apps if all 45.7 million annual patient visits were given a tailored information therapy prescription directing them to one or the other or both.

Now that is what I call IMMENSE POTENTIAL!

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

Helping physicians, hospitals and health plans do a better job of engaging patients, enhancing patient care and improving patient experiences in the exam room is the goal of the Adopt One! Challenge. The Challenge is a great way for physicians to get a comprehensive baseline assessment of their patient communication skills, find out how their communication skills compare to best practices, and get access to online skills development tools.

Be sure to sign up for the Adopt One! Challenge Newsletter for more information. Health plans and hospitals are invited to sponsor the Adopt One! Challenge for physicians in their provider network, including PCMHs and ACOs.

The Lack Of Patient-Centered Communication Skills By Physicians in Your Provider Network Will Limit Your PCMH & ACO Performance

 

Betting the Ranch on your physician patient communication skills

The Adopt One! Challenge – The First Step To Better Patient Engagement & Patient Experiences

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Or in the case of the Adopt One! Challenge…by encouraging physicians across the U.S. to commit to adopting one new patient-centered communication skill in 2014.

Anyone who has followed my work here on Mind the Gap knows that I am passionate about improving the way physicians and their care teams talk to and interact with patients. My passion stems both from my personal experiences as a health care executive, a patient advocate and patient.  I honestly believe that if we could improve how doctors and patients talk with one another beginning in the exam room we would fix much of what is broken with today’s health care system.

“I have discovered that the biggest problem with physician-patient communications is the illusion that it ever occurred! “

AdoptOneBigButtonMany physicians readily admit that their patient communication skills need work. But when faced with a burdensome daily practice schedule they make do with the physician-directed patient communication skills they learned in medical school. Besides…most physicians operate under the mistaken impression that patient-centered communications – the alternative to physician-directed communications – takes too much time and requires longer visits.

So How Will The Adopt One Challenge Fix Things?

The Challenge, to be launched later the Fall, is designed to accomplish three objective – behavioral objectives modeled after the Health Belief Model. These three objectives are:

  • Help physicians understand that their patient communication skills are not all they could be
  • Show physicians how their lack of patient-centered communication skills is a barrier to their ability to effectively engage and activate patients or to provide exceptional patient experiences
  • Serve as a “Call to Action” to prompt physicians to take action to improve their patient-centered communication skills

Here’s how the Adopt One! Challenge will accomplish these objectives:

Help physicians understand that their patient communication skills are not all they could be

Using audio recordings provided by participating physicians a team of independent, trained professionals will identify, measure and assess the patient communication skills employed by each physician. This research method – called conversation analysis – is the same method used in medical school. Unlike patient satisfaction surveys like HCAHPS which are not very prescriptive, the Challenge will provide participants with objective, detailed and actionable findings and recommendations.

Show physicians how their lack of patient-centered communication skills is a barrier to their ability to effectively engage and activate patients or to provide exceptional patient experiences

In addition to measuring and assessing their patient communication skills, each physician’s patient communication skills will be benchmarked against patient-centered best practices.

Over 30 years of research has linked the use of specific, patient-centered communication skills to more productive visits, increased patient engagement, better patient health outcomes, lower health care use and superior patient experiences.  By comparing physicians’ skills against these “best practices” we show them how their communication practices may be affecting patients, their practice and the organizations they work for or with.  We also show them which communication skills they may want to focus on improving.

Serve as a “Call to Action” to prompt physicians to take action to improve their patient-centered communication skills

The Challenge serves as a concrete call to action to physicians to take a specific action to learn a new patient-centered communication skill over the course of 12 months.  This call to action will require participants to 1) commit in writing to adopt/develop one new patient-centered communication skill of their choosing and 2) provide them with access to online training and resources needed to help them learn that new communication skill.

Because the Adopt One! Challenge is expected to become an annual event, participating physicians can measure their year-over-year progress as they add new patient-centered communication skills.

In future posts I will share more about the Adopt One! Challenge. In these future posts I will profiling members of the Adopt One! Challenge Advisory Board as well as the Partners that are making the Challenge possible.

The Adopt One! Challenge is Free To Individual Physicians.

If you are interested in offering the Adopt One! Challenge to all the physicians in your provider network?  E-mail us at contact@adoptonechallenge.com.