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3 Ways to Incorporate Patient Preferences into Healthcare

Healthcare professionals can incorporate more patient preferences into their care delivery by collecting their perspectives through surveys or patient advisory councils.

Understanding and incorporating patient preferences into provider care delivery should prove useful to improving patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes. With these preferences in mind, providers can tailor care strategies capable of being more effective and resulting in higher patient satisfaction.

In fact, as patients become healthcare consumers, understanding their needs may have assumed greater importance. Healthcare organizations that manage to incorporate patient preferences into their practices may even be more likely to succeed in a changing reimbursement structure than those who do not.

But providers are likely not utilizing patient preference data effectively. According to a survey from Kaufman, Hall & Associates, only 16 percent of healthcare organizations integrate patient feedback and preferences into clinical practices, despite the fact that 66 percent agree it’s important to do so.

“As consumers increasingly shop for lower prices and better experience, applying consumer understanding will be key to succeeding in the face of competition that ‘will come from places we can’t even imagine right now,’ said one respondent,” the researchers reported.

In an effort to remain competitive, healthcare organizations will keep a finger on the pulse of patient needs and determine how best to integrate those needs into their clinical workflows. Below, offers examples of how some practices are already doing that.

Surveying patients about their needs

For many providers, a logical option for understanding patient needs is going right to the source using survey techniques. That’s what Cory Siegel, MD, did when trying to determine treatment paths for his ulcerative colitis patients.

When working to make patients part of the decision-making process, Siegel surveyed his ulcerative patients to discover what concerns they had with their three treatment options. What he discovered, however, was that patients were most concerned with the disease’s potential complications, not treatment.

This facilitated a process that was fundamentally patient-centric, he said. Instead of acting on his assumption – that patients were conflicted about ulcerative colitis treatment – Siegel asked patients what they needed. This made the process about the patient instead of the provider.

“We really need to understand what patients are most fearful of and most concerned about and what they want to talk about because otherwise it becomes a very provider-centric program as opposed to a patient-centric program,” explained Siegel, Associate Professor of Medicine and the Director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

While Siegel’s research ultimately informed a communication platform for him and his ulcerative colitis patients, he acknowledged that it had larger implications for all his patient encounters.

“We didn’t just build a communications tool to teach our patients about their disease and treatments based on what doctors thought was important to tell them,” Siegel concluded. “We went to patients first to understand what they needed to hear and what they wanted to hear and what they’re most fearful of so we can address it.”

Setting up patient advisory boards

On a larger scale, healthcare organizations can still turn to patients for guidance using patient advisory councils (PACs). According to research in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, PACs can be extremely effective.

“PACs are groups of patients, family members, and caregivers who meet on a regular basis to help identify practice improvement priorities and support practice improvement projects in collaboration with clinic staff members and leaders,” the researchers wrote. “There is case-based evidence that inpatient advisory councils have had a positive effect on patient safety and readmissions.”

Through qualitative interviews with both patient and provider PAC participants, the researchers found that through council support these bodies can be effective and worth the effort they usually require.

“In our study, both patients and staff working with high-functioning PACs believed that their activities had a positive influence on clinic programs, clinic culture, and patient care,” the researchers said. “Although respondents did not describe metrics of success, there was overarching concordance that working with a PAC was worth the time it takes.”

The surveyed PAC members were successful because they followed similar structural models, including properly vetting patient council members to ensure diversity and teamwork, facilitating productive meetings, holding staff accountable for carrying out PAC initiatives, and spreading awareness about the PAC across the healthcare organization.

Just as individual providers might be successful at integrating patient preferences simply by surveying their patients, entire organizations can make patient-centered improvements by consulting an organized patient body.

Meeting patient needs to boost overall experience

While considering patient preferences and satisfaction in a facility environment may seem inconsequential, it may actually have a significant effect. After all, environment and facility conditions contribute to overall patient experience — and are part of HCAHPS and patient satisfaction scores.

Because these scores affect some Medicare reimbursements, healthcare organizations should consider patient preferences when assessing their hospital environments.

Nemours Children’s Health System did just that when designing and building its facilities in Orlando and Delaware, according to Chief Information Officer Bernie Rice.

Nemours did not simply focus on the cleanliness of patient rooms (although according the American Hospital Association, cleanliness is important). Instead, the health system collected preferences about what patient rooms should look like.

“The parents came in and tested all of the furniture that they might be sleeping on in the rooms. They provided input into what we actually purchased,” Rice recalled.

“The children came in as well and helped pick colors and room layouts as far as if the counter was too high. They were very valuable and heavily influenced our construction and design to make sure it was a very family- and patient-friendly environment.”

By consulting with the PAC and understanding the expectations of patients, Nemours ensured that they not only delivered quality treatment, but also that they offered a comfortable experience for both patients and caregivers.

Ultimately, working toward a positive patient experience is a driver for understanding and incorporating patient preferences into care. While doing so can yield better patient retention or satisfaction ratings, providers should also consider preferences as a part of delivering patient-centered care.

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