Tag Archives: Physician

The Truth About Those High Patient Satisfaction Scores For Doctor-Patient Communication

We have all seen them.  You know…those charts showing us how satisfied patients are with the way their doctors communicate.  Did your doctor listen to you?  Did you doctor explain things in a way you could understand?

Funny thing about these charts, whether they be for hospitals or doctor’s offices,  1) they never seem to change from year to year – 80% – 90% of doctors communicate well with patients and 2) patients consistently rate their doctors’ communication skills as high.

Doctor-Pt Communication GraphThe problem with satisfaction data related to doctor-patient communication is that, at face value, it simply doesn’t correlate with other published data on the subject. There is a “disconnect” between what patients say in satisfaction surveys and what happens in actual practice.

Here’s what I mean.

Recent studies of hospitalized patients have shown that:

  • 68% to 85.3% of patients could not name the physician in charge of their care.
  • 43% to 58% of patients did not know the reason for their hospital admission.
  • 67% of patients received a new medication while hospitalized… yet 25% of these patients were unaware that they were given a new medication.
  • 90% of patients given a new medication reported never being told of adverse effects of the new medication.
  • 38% of patients were not aware of planned tests for the day.

The amazing thing was that majority of these patients (up to 58% in one study) said that their doctors always explained things in ways they could understand!

The same types of “disconnects” show up in satisfaction surveys done in doctor’s offices.   Studies of primary care physicians show that:

  • Patients are interrupted by their physicians within the first 18 seconds of their opening statement during office visits
  • Physicians and patients agree on the reason for the office visit only 50% to 70% of the time
  • Physician underestimate the patient’s desire for health information in 65% of the time
  • 50% of patients walk out of their doctor’s office not understanding what their doctor told them to do
  • Patient are not asked if they have any questions in up to 50% of office visits

Again, I am sure these same patients praised their physicians’ communication skills on one or another satisfaction survey.

So What Explains The “Disconnect” Between How Physicians Actually Talk To Patients…And Patient Satisfaction?

Today’s high patient satisfaction scores are an artifact of the way we (when we become patients) have been “socialized” when it comes to a trip to the doctor’s office. Here’s what I mean.

1) Beginning with childhood, we have all been socialized to assume the “sick role” when seeing the doctor.  From our initial visits to the pediatrician with our Mom we quickly learned that the doctor is in charge and that our Mom’s role (and ours) is to sit passive by while the doctor does most of the talking.  Notwithstanding all the “talk” about how empowered patients are today, most of us still assume the “sick role” when seeing our doctor.

2) Accustomed as most of us today are to the sick role, and accepting the fact that physicians are very busy, we are not surprised when doctors don’t seem to listen to us or interrupt us. We are not surprised that they don’t have time for all our questions or frown on us bringing in lists of things we have researched on the internet. This for most patients is what we are used to…it is what we are satisfied with given that most of us have don’t another or better point of comparison, i.e., a highly patient-centered physician.

3) Consistent with the sick role, we as patients “tend to be overly patient.” We “grant our doctors the benefit of every doubt.” Most of us begrudgingly put up with poor service, inconvenience, and unnecessary discomforts, until we can’t overlook it anymore. Even then we are reluctant to take our busy, overburdened doctor to task for these shortcomings by giving them a low score on a satisfaction survey.

The Take Away?

Hospital, medical group, IPA and ACO executives need to:

  • Be cautious about putting too much credence in patient ratings of physician communication skills. “One can assume that the quality of care is actually worse than surveys of patient satisfaction would seem to show” to quote Avedis Donabedian, MD, an old professor of mine.
  • Recognize that high quality, patient-centered communications (the gold standard for physician-patient communications) is essential to patient engagement, optimal patient outcomes and great patient experiences. If physician communication were as great as patients satisfaction surveys suggest, we wouldn’t be having the problems we are with low levels of patient engagement and non-adherence.
  • Benchmark the patient centered communication skills of the primary care physicians on their staff (employed and otherwise) and compare the findings against established best practices.
  • Take the additional reimbursement you will get from CMS for your patient high satisfaction scores and invest it back into improving the patient-centered communication skills of their physicians and patients. That is, if you don’t have to pay a penalty to CMS for high re-admission rates – which by the way is another by-product of poor physician-patient communication.

Remember that there is perhaps no better, more cost-effective way to differentiate your physicians (and your brand) these days than to have physicians on staff who really know how to listen and relate to patients.

That’s my opinion…what’s your?

Sources:

Makaryus, A. et al. Patients’ Understanding of Their Treatment Plans and Diagnosis at Discharge. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2005;80(8):991-994

Boland, B. et al. Patient-Physician Agreement on Reasons for Ambulatory General Medical Examinations. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 1998;73(1), 109-117.

O’Leary, K. et al. Hospitalized Patients’ Understanding of Their Plan of Care. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2010;85(1):47-52.

Olson, D. et al. Communication Discrepancies Between Physicians and Hospitalized Patients. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2010;170(15):1302-1307

What Are Your Personal Health Goals? Have You Ever Shared Them With Your Doctor? Has Your Doctor Ever Asked You What Yours Are?

Face it.  We all have personal health goals.  We may not share our personal health goals with family of friends like we do our financial or professional goals, but we all still have them.   I for example aspire to the following personal health goals:

  • To defy the conventional wisdom associated with aging (look younger, feel younger, live like I am younger).
  • To avoid premature aging – vision problems, flexibility and balance issues, aging and appearance, weight gain, skin tone, etc.
  • To not be called old by my grand kids
  • To live a more active life than my parents did
  • Question authority (yes I am a product of the 60’s and 70’s)

OK personal health goalsso I am vain.  I bet I am not the only one.  I am just the one dumb enough to publicly admit it (LOL).

Have I ever share these goals with my doctor?  Are you kidding me?

He can’t deal with the fact that I experience depression from time to time and insist on telling him about it…eeewww.   Besides…he will just tell me that getting old is part of the natural process.   You are supposed to lose your hearing, lose your balance and flexibility, get fat and wrinkly, become senile, and so on.   Let’s face it. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone – including your physician – when you know from experience that they are simply not interested  in what you have to say…or don’t share your point of view…when it comes to certain subjects.

There’s also another reason I have never shared my person health goals with my physician.   I have never been asked.

In their defense, doctors aren’t trained to care about things beyond the realm of strict biomedical conditions – acute conditions in other words.   That’s why it is so hard for physicians and many other provider types to get their heads around patient-centered care.   To become more patient-centered providers need to deal with touchy feely issues like personal health goals, personal health beliefs and motivations, family issues, depression, anxiety and all the other human emotions.   A physician I know referred to patient-centered care as a kind of “rabbit hole” physicians just don’t want to go down.  Getting to know the “person behind the disease” is time consuming and can take you down paths you not sure where they end up!

Health care executives, providers and payers wonder why patients aren’t more engaged in their health…aka do as they are told.  The problem isn’t that patients (people) aren’t engaged in their health…they are…the problem is that so much of what is passed off as patient engagement these days (EHRs, PHRs, team care, care coordinators, web portals, decision support tools) are not inherently engaging to us patients!   Why?  Go back and read my personal health goals and explain to how today’s technology-enabled vision of patient engagement is at all relevant to my (and I suspect many of your) personal health care goals.   

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

Post Script

As I mentioned in my last post, I am heading up a research team that will be auditing 2,500 physician-patient conversations recorded during primary care office visits from across the US.   Among the many questions we will seek to answer will be the frequency with which physicians and/or patients raise the question of the patient’s personal health goals.

Stay tuned.  For more information on the 2012 Physician-Patient Communication Benchmark Report click here.

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

Patient Portals – What Do Patients Really Think About Them?

There seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of spin one hears about “the next big thing”…and reality.    First it was EMRs and virtual e-visits, then social media, and now patient portals seem poised to be next big thing.   The drumbeat of vendors and pundits is unmistakable….physician that don’t adapt will be toast.   It can all sound pretty convincing until you ask to see the evidence.  What do patients think?

Take the physician patient portal.   If you read between the lines, patient portals are frequently being positioned as the new “front door” to physician practices.   By signing on to a secure website patients will have real time access to the electronic health record and will be able to communicate with their physicians by e-mail.   Additional patient features include being able to schedule an appointment with their doctor, reading their test results and refilling prescriptions.  But despite these features, according to John Moore at Chilmark Research, “nationwide use of patient portals remains at a paltry 6%.”

Ok… so now we know what vendors and pundits think about patient portals. What about patients – what do they think?

They would love it right?  I mean who at this very moment isn’t at home trying to e-mail their doctor.  Yeah right.

If a qualitative study of primary care patients in Journal of Internal Medicine is any indication, those most interested in using a patient portal were patients who were:

  • Dissatisfied with their physician
  • Dissatisfied with their physicians communications ability
  • Dissatisfied with their ability to get medical information from their physician

Those patients least likely interested in using a patient portal offered by their physician are patients who are:

  • Satisfied with their physician
  • Satisfied with their physician’s communication abilities
  • Difficulty in using the portal

Of significant note, patients who reported good relationships with their doctors were afraid that the patient portal would potentially undermine that strength of that relationship.    In other words, patients were afraid that e-visits would replace face to face visits.  Researchers were surprised that not one patient in the study identified encrypted e-mail communication with their doctor as an advantage of patient portals.

While the findings from this study are not generalizable, the study does highlight a potentially significant unintended consequence of encouraging patients to use a new patient portal.   Patients may interpret the move as a signal from their physician that they will have less face-to-face time with their doctor…which in their mind is not a good thing.

To be sure, there are notable exceptions to the cautionary tale described here.  MYGroupHealth , the patient portal developed by patients and providers at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, is perhaps the best example.

Take Aways

  1. Patient Portals are not going to go away.  Having a patient portal is expected to be a requirement in the final  Stage 2 Meaningful Use (MU) Requirements (June 2012) and is listed as a condition for advanced Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) accreditation by NCQA
  2. Ask patients what they think about a patient portal – what services should it offer, would they use it, how should it be promoted and so on.  After all, it is supposed to be patient-centered.
  3. The real value of the patient portal lies in physicians providing  patient-centered, clinical support to patients rather than promoting products and services.
  4. Integrate the patient portal into the primary care physician’s work flow and practice.  If you collect patient data on the portal then make use the physician actually uses the information during the patient visit.

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

Sources:

Zickmund SL, Hess R, Bryce CL, et al. Interest in the use of computerized patient portals: role of the provider-patient relationship. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2008;23.