On the surface, it may seem obvious that all healthcare should be patient-centered. While most people agree with this general sentiment, there is a surprising amount of pushback within the medical establishment when trying to implement changes that address that very matter.
What patient-centered healthcare means
The president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement defines patient-centered healthcare as:
The experience (to the extent the informed, individual patient desires it) of transparency, individualization, recognition, respect, dignity, and choice in all matters, without exception, related to one’s person, circumstances, and relationships in health care.
In its simplest form, it is participation of the patient in his or her own health matters. Why would there be any barriers to something that seems so reasonable? It disrupts the status quo that so many providers have been entrenched in and are comfortable with.
Advanced changes brings uncertainty with healthcare providers
It is only recently that technology is truly making patient-centered care possible. Decades ago patients just didn’t have access to medical information, social communities, and other tools of support. They were at the mercy of their doctors and hospitals. Knowledge, once limited to medical school libraries, can now be accessed by anyone, anywhere. And since advancements in technology are moving so fast, change is coming quickly—too quickly for some.
Now physicians ought to be prepared to take a much more mindful and comprehensive approach to patient care rather than just concentrating on treatment of the illness. This can be done while striking a fine balance between addressing what the patient truly needs on an emotional level and delivering the best treatment.
Better information, healthier outcomes, happier patients
Recently the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wrote succinctly on the subject, saying that “an important part of patient centered care is changing a health care provider’s first question from “What’s the matter with you?” to “What matters to you?” This question helps establish a deeper relationship between the patient and the healthcare team. It’s a relationship that focuses on improving the life of the patient, not just treating a disease.
This supportive environment that encourages participation of patients and families is an integral part of overall well being.
Luckily patient-centered care is becoming a focal point for health organizations and improving the overall quality of the care they provide. If you had a rare illness twenty years ago you might have had a hard time finding a proper diagnosis and an even harder time finding people in similar situations. Now organizations, like the Human Health Project, provide essential resources for patients to have a better understanding of their illness as well as connect and share information.
In the end, patient-centered healthcare is important. And knowing what it means becomes crucial in order to not only empower patients, but also make the jobs of physicians and providers easier. Bringing more efficiency and compassion to the system leaves patients not only healed, but also happy.
Additional reading and references: