Patient Non-Adherence (Like Engagement) Is A Physician-Patient Communication Challenge – Not A Health Information Technology Challenge

2

Have you noticed all the articles in the health care press lately touting health information technologies’ ability to increase patient medication adherence?  Smart phone-based apps, Smart pill bottles and Patient Portals are all about trying to get patients to do something (take a medication) which some physician somewhere has deemed to be the right thing for the patient to do.   Some would call this process of generating adherence patient engagement.

Chalk these high-tech patient reminder solutions up to just another well-intentioned but misguided attempt by HIT vendors at patient engagement…one not likely to be met with much long-term success.  Sorry folks.

The fact is that these high-tech solutions, like physicians, still talk about non-adherence as if it is all the patient’s fault.  Come on …you have to admit that’s not a very engaging “message.”   You know…patients don’t fill (refill their prescriptions), patient don’t take their meds are directed, patient forget, and so on.  According to people much smarter than I am about such things, this perspective is outdated.

Many researchers now argue that patient non-adherence is more often the result of ineffective patient communication skills and not “disengaged, lazy or forgetful patients.”  One study showed that 19% of patient non-adherence was attributable to poor physician communication with patients.

It is also worth noting that there are two types of patient non-adherence – intention and unintentional…only one of which is addressed by these high-tech solutions.   In this post I want to focus on the intentionally non-adherent patients (the one not addressed by the reminders) .  After all, only bad or stupid people would intentionally go against something that clearly is their best interest…right?

Wrong.  As it turns out there are lots of legitimate reasons (from the patient’s perspective) for non-adherence.

Here are the main reasons cited in the literature:

  • The patient doesn’t agree with the diagnosis necessitating the prescription
  • The patient believes the diagnosis but doesn’t think the diagnosis is serious enough to merit taking a new medication prescription
  • The patient doesn’t believe in taking medications
  • The patient believes the risks associated with the medication outweigh the benefits
  • The patient doesn’t believe the medication will work
  • The patient can’t afford the medication

NonAdherence

 

Think about your recent physician visits, where your clinician prescribed a new medication.  I’ll bet one or two of the above “reservations” flitted across your mind.  I’ll also bet that your provider never once asked how you felt about taking the prescribed medication.  I’ll even go out on a limb and bet that most of you never mentioned your reservations to your provider either.

Don’t believe me?  Then consider this factoid.  When prescribing a new medication, the average primary care physician spends less than 50 seconds teaching (too strong a word) patient about the medication, e.g. why they need it, how to take it, how much to take, when to take it, indications and contraindications, when to stop and what to do when you stop.  That’s not much time for the physician to say everything that needs to be said (which doesn’t happen).  Nor does it leave time for the patient to say much.

Since most patients are reluctant to interrupt or contradict their clinician, many if not most of the concerns patients have about taking the new medications are never voiced.  Rather, patients just go home and never fill the prescript.

So now help me understand how my patient portal or smart phone app can engage me by implicitly blaming me for not taking my medications.  Or motive me to take my medications  when I don’t believe that they are not necessary or that they may be worse for me than the problem they are intended to solve.

Patient adherence is much more likely to occur when the patient and clinician agree on the basics, e.g., the diagnosis and treatment.  That requires a conversation or two or three.  The goal of effective clinician-patient communication is to resolve such disagreements.  And that is why the solution to patient non-adherence lies in developing the patient-centered communication skills of clinicians…not in trying to cajole patients into using some new app or patient portal that totally ignores their concerns and beliefs.

All together now…patient adherence (and engagement) are a physician-patient communication challenge…not an HIT challenge.

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

Note:  Later this Fall, Mind the Gap will be announcing the Adopt One! Challenge TM. for physicians and their care teams.  The goal of the challenge is to encourage physicians and their care teams to adopt one new patient-centered communication skill within 2014. 

[color-box]

Sign-up to learn more about this one-of-a-kind “Challenge”:

[wysija_form id="3"]

[/color-box]

Sources:

Koenig, C. J. (2011). Patient Resistance as A in Treatment Decisions. Social Science & Medicine (1982), 72(7), 1105-14.Johnson, J, et al. (2005) Factors Associated with Medication Nonadherence in Patients With COPD. Chest. 128(5).

Wilson, I. et al. (2007). Physician – Patient Communication About Prescription Medication Nonadherence: A 50-State Study of America’s Seniors. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 22(1), 6-12

Johnson, J, et al. (2005) Factors Associated with Medication Nonadherence in Patients With COPD. Chest. 128(5).

Zolnierek, H. et al. (2009) Physician Communication and Patient Adherence to Treatment: A Meta-Analysis. Medical Care. 47(8), 826-834.

Sarkar, U., et al. (2011). Patient-Physicians’ Information Exchange in Outpatient Cardiac Care: Time for a Heart to Heart? Patient Education and Counseling, 85(2), 173-9.

The Push For Patient Engagement – Who Benefits The Most?

0

It goes without saying that people – you and I – need to be actively involved (Ok…I’ll say it…engaged) in our own health.  After all it is our health we are talking about.   But I have long suspected that there may be motives behind all this talk about patient engagement that go beyond the simple argument that it’s “the right thing for patients to do.”  Motives which I believe constitute a fundamental “unspoken truth” about why policy makers, payers, vendors and at least a few providers are so passionate about patient engagement.

Truths that have remained unspoken until now that is.

Offloading Work To PatientsSam VanNorman, director of business intelligence, from Park Nicollet, shared this unspoken truth about patient engagement at a recent panel discussion on Pioneer ACOs.  In an online Forbes article, Dave Chase quotes VanNorman as saying:

“We have to incorporate the most important member of the care team — the patient. With our finite resources, we must figure out ways to offload what we have thought as tasks that needed to be done by our staff.  In most cases, it’s the patient who can do it more effectively. In the process, the patient is more engaged and it’s more efficient for everyone.”

The heretofore unspoken truth to which I refer is that for some, patient engagement is not about getting patients to do what in their own best  interest….but rather doing what’s in the self interest of policy makers, payers and perhaps providers.

I am not convinced however that most clinicians think this way.

Call me naïve, but I thought patients were the most important member of the care team because of what they can do for themselves, e.g., share information with the clinician to improve diagnosis and treatment, self-care management and so on.  Patient engagement to those thinking this way is about inviting the patient into their care and the care process to advance their activation, quality of care, clinical outcomes and the patient experience.   This approach begins with the patient.  As such, this approach is patient-centered in that the care delivery process begins by the clinician eliciting the patient’s knowledge and perspectives of their health.

VanNorman seems to believe that patients are the most important member of the care team because of what they can do for the provider and payer,  e.g., provide a more efficient, cheaper (free is pretty cheap) labor pool to which clinicians can outsource work they don’t want to do, don’t have time to do or don’t get paid to do.  Patient engagement for those that think this way begins with policy makers, payers and administrators looking for ways of offloading tasks (of their choosing) to the patient (e.g., lowest pay grade), irrespective of the patient’s willingness, knowledge or ability to comply. This approach could rightly be called bureaucrat-directed care which is antithetical to patient-centered care and the principle of PCMH and ACO models as well as the Triple Aims.

Don’t Conflate Outsourcing With Patient Engagement – They Are Not The Same

I complete understand VanNorman’s logic and agree with the notion of putting patients to work – they are a vastly underutilized resource in so many ways.  What I disagree with is conflating with “outsourcing” with patient-engagement.    I feel that the definition of patient engagement I share with most clinicians carries with it a kind of moral authority to do what’s right for the patient.   VanNorman’s attempts to cloak “physician workload outsourcing” as patient engagement feels manipulative, self-serving and  destined to disengage patients instead.

Furthermore I fundamentally disagree with anyone trying to force patients to do anything without the benefit of first:

  • Explaining to patients what you want them to do
  • Why you are asking patients to do something
  • Asking for their feedback on what you want them to do
  • Teaching patients how to do what it is you are asking them to do
  • Providing ongoing support to patients regarding what you asked them to do

The Take Away?

Maybe one of the real reasons patient engagement is so hard is that some of us are approaching it from a patient-centered perspective…while others are approaching it from VanNorman’s beauracrat-directed perspective.

This in turn translates into different motives, messages to patients, different measures of patient engagement and so on.

This may also explain why some of my peers in HIMMS and NeHC get so mad at me when I say that patient engagement is a physician-patient communication challenge and not an HIT challenge.

That’s my opinion…what’s yours?

 

AdoptOneBigButtonsgifNote:  Later this Fall, Mind the Gap will be announcing the Adopt One! Challenge TM. for physicians and their care teams.  The goal of the challenge is to encourage physicians and their care teams to adopt one new patient-centered communication skill within 2014. 

[color-box]

Sign-up to learn more about this one-of-a-kind “Challenge”:

[wysija_form id="3"]

[/color-box]

Patient-Centered Medical Homes Need To Become More “Patient-Centered”

1

A recent study in Medical Care about Horizon BCBS of New Jersey’s Medical Home pilot reminded me of the expression a “house does not make a home.”   Or in this case how building a medical house to the spec (as laid out by 3rd parties like NCQA and JACHO)  is not the same as building a medical home that is truly patient-centered .   As it turns out, researchers involved in the Horizon study claimed not to have found any significant differences between PCMH practices and non-PCMH practices.

Don’t get me wrong, my hat is off to the thousands upon thousands of primary care practices from New Jersey to Hawaii that have put in long hours going the extra mile to become recognized as Patient Centered Medical Homes.  Due to the efforts of these first generation PCMH pioneers, and their health plan partners, millions of people now have unprecedented access to primary care physicians providing:

  • Medical HousePhysician-led team care
  • Electronic records (EMR/Registry)
  • Embedded care coordinators
  • PHRs and web portals

 

Yes, many of the PCMH pilots, now into their 4th or 5th year, are showing promising results with reported reductions in ER visits, hospitalizations and 30-day hospital readmissions.  These pilots are also reporting improvements in HEDIS-related quality indicators.

But while team care, care coordination and EMRs may increase practice efficiency, there is nothing inherently patient-centered about these “things.”

That’s because patient-centered care is a philosophy of care delivery…not simply a punch list of HIT and staffing requirements.  Crossing the Quality Chasm defines patient-centered care as “respectful of and responsive (where practicable) to individual patient preferences, needs, and values”; or as Berwick is quoted as saying, “nothing about me (the patient) without me.” Patient-centered care occurs between people – not things – and manifests itself in the way the clinician and patient talk with and relate to one another, e.g. patient-centered communications.

With all the attention placed on building out the HIT and staffing infrastructure,  this first generation of PCMH pilots, with some notable exceptions, has lost sight of the most what makes a medical house and patient-centered medical home – notably the relationship between the patient and the clinician, beginning with the quality of clinicians’ patient-centered communication skills.

Yes, many accredited PCMH’s have patient advisory boards and conduct patient satisfaction surveys.   But as researchers like Street and Epstein have suggested,  relying just on patients’ impressions and ratings of “patient-centeredness” may provide false reassurance given that many patients have never experienced anything but suboptimal care and physicians that employ a paternalistic, decidedly un-patient-centered style of talking to patients.  (Until recently, I myself had never encountered a real patient-centered physician).

As I discussed in an earlier post, the majority of physicians today employ a paternalistic, physician-directed style of communicating with patients.   As such, there is no evidence to suggest that the patient communication skills of physicians practicing in accredited PCMHs are any more patient-centered that their counter parts in traditional practices.

Based upon the literature, what is absent in this first generation of PCMH pilots is any serious, systematic attention given to assessing and/or improving the quality of the patient-centered communication skills of physicians and their care teams.   This oversight is worth noting since the benefits expected by policy makers and underwriters of PCMHs and ACOs under health care reform have been linked in the research to the strong patient-centered communications and not HIT, team care and care coordinators.

Why Is This Important If PCMH Pilots Are Reporting Positive Outcomes?  

The early saving being reported by many PCMH pilots may well represent the “low hanging fruit.” This is not an unreasonable supposition given that most physician practices have never had EMRs, care coordinators, or team care prior to the PCMH pilots.  As is so often the case, within a short few years, this low hanging fruit will disappear.

But there is another way. Thirty years of research has demonstrated the benefits of patient-centered communications when it comes to increased productivity, greater patient engagement; better outcomes, lower health care use/cost and superior patient experiences.

Going forward, PCMHs, ACOs and their sponsors will need to look past HIT and team care to the quality of their patient-centered communication skills if they are to assume the role envisioned for them under health care reform.

That’s my opinion…what’s yours?

AdoptOneBigButtonsgifNote:  In March 2014, Mind the Gap will be announcing the Adopt One! Challenge TM. for physicians and their care teams.  The goal of the challenge is to encourage physicians and their care teams to adopt one new patient-centered communication skill within 2014. 

Sign-up to learn more about this on-of-a kind “Challenge”:

[wysija_form id="3"]

Sources:

Epstein RM, Fiscella K, Lesser CS, Stange KC.  Why the nation needs
a policy push on patient-centered health care. Health Affairs. 2010;29(8):1489-1495.

Ming Tai-Seale, et al.  Recognition as a Patient-Centered Medical Home: Fundamental or Incidental? Annals of Family Medicine. 2013;11:S14-S18.

Street, R., et al.  The Values and Value of Patient-Centered
Care.  Annals of Family Medicine.  2011;9:100-103.

Ten Reasons Why Hospitals, Health Plans And Medical Groups Should Invest In Developing Their Physicians’ Patient-Centered Communication Skills

0

“Patients are, in fact, overly patient; they put up with unnecessary discomforts and grant their doctors the benefit of every doubt, until deficiencies in care are too manifest to be overlooked.  Generally speaking, one can assume that the quality of care is, actually, worse than surveys of patient satisfaction would seem to show.  Patients need to betaught to be less patient, more critical, more assertive.”

Avedis Donabedian, MD.   Father of Health Care Quality

Black Woman and DoctorIt’s no secret that poor communication tops the list of patient complaints about their physicians.  Who hasn’t heard a physician or an enabling administrator say that they “don’t have time to talk to patients” or that they “don’t get paid for talking to patients.”  While understandable, that kind of a response seems to demean the interpersonal exchange which is the very essence of the physician-patient relationship.

Contrary to what most people think, the quality of a physician’s patient communication skills impacts far more than the patient experience.   The quality of your physicians’ patient communication skills drives the quality of the patient’s diagnosis, treatment, outcome and cost.   And that my friends should get your attention.

If 30+ years of evidence is to be believed, there is a practicable solution to today’s physician-patient communication funk everyone finds themselves in.   It’s called patient-centered communications

Here are 10 evidence-based reasons why providers and payers should go beyond useless global measures of patient communication and give serious thought to assessing and improving their physicians’ patient-centered communication skills.

  1.  Improve visit productivity – collaborative setting of a visit agenda and negotiation of visit expectations by patient and physician have been show as a way to reduce the “oh by the way” comments at the end of the visit and to allow more to be accomplished often in less time.  1
  2. Improve the patient experience – the duration of the visit is not nearly as important to patients as the quality of time spent face-to-face with the physician.  Visits in which the physician invites patient participation and makes the patient feel heard and understood produce higher satisfaction and experience scores. 1
  3. Increase patient engagement – patients come to physicians for a reason(s).  They are already engaged otherwise they wouldn’t be there.  Patient-centered physicians solicit the patient’s reasons for the visit, their ideas about what’s wrong and their thoughts regarding what they want the physician to do.   It helps eliminate guessing and unfulfilled patient expectations.
  4. Improve patient adherence –  “Patient beliefs about medication were more powerful predictors of adherence than their clinical and socio-demographic factors, accounting for 19% of the explained variance in adherence. “  By understanding where the patient is coming from physicians can avoid wasting time recommending treatments which patients will not adhere to, i.e., prescribing a new Rx when patient would prefer life style modifications. 2
  5. Fewer requests for expensive tests – strong physician-patient relationships characterized by effective patient-centered communication skills report higher levels of patient trust in the doctor and lower levels of patient requests for expensive diagnostic tests commonly found in physician-patient relationships reporting lower levels of patient trust in physician. 3
  6. Fewer ER visits and hospital readmissions – patients in strong patient-centered physician relationships are more likely to engage in the kinds of self care management behaviors which preclude ER visits and rehospitalizations.  3
  7. Better patient outcomes – Chronic disease patients of physicians with strong patient-centered communication skills are consistently found in studies to report better A1C scores, better controlled hypertension and asthma, and so on. 4
  8. Reduce malpractice risk – The majority of malpractice claims involve some form of communication breakdown between physician and patient.   Patient-centered physician-patient relationships are characterized by a high degree of relevant and timely information exchange which greatly reduces the risk of physician-patient communication errors. 5
  9. Reduce disparities in care – The evidence shows that physicians tend to be more paternalistic and directive when talking with ethnic patients, including sharing less information, compared to when communicating with white patients. 6
  10. Increased reimbursement – CMS and many commercial payers now offer incentive payments for outcomes linked to patient-centered communications. i.e., patient experience, reduced ER visits and hospital readmissions, use of generic vs. brand drugs, lower levels of expensive diagnostic tests, etc.

 

AdoptOneBigButtonsgifNote:  Be sure to sign up for the Adopt One! Challenge scheduled to kick off in February 2014.     The goal of the event will be to challenge physicians and their care teams to adopt one new patient-centered communication skill within the next 12 months.

As part of the Adopt One! Challenge physicians and their care teams will have the opportunity to sign up for a free evaluation of their patient-centered communication skills, have their skills benchmarked against best practices and  receive a report detailing their findings and recommended steps for improvement. 

To learn more about the Adopt One! Challenge sign up for our newsletter below:

[wysija_form id="3"]

 Sources:

1        Dugdale, D. C., Epstein, R., & Pantilat, S. Z.  Time and the patient-physician relationship. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 14 Suppl 1, S34-40.  1999.

2       Horne, R., & Weinman, J.  Patients’ beliefs about prescribed medicines and their role in adherence to treatment in chronic physical illness.  Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Vol. 47, No. 6, pp. 555–567, 1999.

3        Thom, D. H., Hall, M. a., & Pawlson, L. G. (2004). Measuring Patients’ Trust In Physicians When Assessing Quality Of Care. Health Affairs, 23(4), 124-132.

4       Stewart, M. . et al. (2000). The Impact of Patient-Centered Care on Outcomes. Journal of Family Practice, 49(No. 9), 1-9.

5        Levinson, W., Roter, D. L., Mullooly, J. P., Dull, V. T., & Frankel, R. M. (1997). Physician-patient communication. The relationship with malpractice claims among primary care physicians and surgeons. JAMA : the Journal of the American Medical Association, 277(7), 553-9.

6       Johnson, R. L., Roter, D., Powe, N. R., & Cooper, L. a. (2004). Patient race/ethnicity and quality of patient-physician communication during medical visits. American journal of public health, 94(12), 2084-90.

Physicians With High Productivity And Satisfaction Scores Employ Strong Patient-Centered Communication Skills

0

People are forever telling me that I am wasting my talking to providers about the need to improve their patient communication skills.  Naysayers typically cite one of the following reasons for why things will never change:

Reason 1 – Every physician thinks they already have good patient communication skills.

Reason 2 – Physicians don’t have time to talk to patients

Reason 3 – Physicians don’t get paid to talk to patients

Reason 1 is relatively easy to debunk. After all, if all physicians were really such good communicators:

  • poor communications skills wouldn’t consistently top the list of patient complaints about physicians
  • patient non-adherence wouldn’t be so high since physician and patients would always agree on what is wrong and what needs to be done
  • patients would not be walking out of their doctor’s office not understanding what they were told
  • patients would not experience so many communication-related medical errors

Reason 3 requires a little straightforward logic:

Since physicians are paid to diagnose and treat patients presenting problems…and the accuracy of their diagnosis and treatment depends upon their physicians’ ability to elicit and listen to the patient’s story…then indeed physicians are already being paid to talk to patients.

Reason 3 (physicians don’t have time) has always been hard to address. That is until now.

Most us tend to think about physician time on a zero sum basis.  Take the office visit for example.  Providers will argue that they either spend more time trying to be patient-centered (associated with great patient experiences) or they can use less time to diagnose and treat patients the way they have always done – but no way can they do both at the same time.

A recent published study conducted by HealthPartners in Minneapolis suggests that physician time is not a zero sum game – that providers can in fact be productive while at the same time creating a satisfying patient experience.

Individual productivity and patient experience scores were calculated and plotted for 22 HealthPartners physicians using a scatter diagram like that shown in Figure 1 (for demonstration purposes only). What the study found was that a relatively equal number of physicians fell into each of 4 quadrants – strong productivity/strong satisfaction, strong productivity/weak satisfaction, weak productivity/strong satisfaction and weak productivity/weak satisfaction.

Figure 1Productivity-Satisfaction

The researchers then looked to explain the difference between physicians in each of the quadrants. They ended identifying a set of “behaviors and characteristics” to help explain why some physicians had strong productivity/strong satisfaction scores while others did not.

Physicians in the strong productivity/strong satisfaction quadrant exhibited the following behaviors and characteristic to observers:

  • Focused on teaching and explanations
  • Conveys warmth from the start
  • Well-planned flow of visit with focus on patient’s agenda
  • Controlled script with clear parts
  • Extremely personable—connects with every patient
  • Always looking for buy-in from the patient that s/he fully understands
  • Recap the history: “I read your chart …”
  • Confident but not arrogant
  • Finishes dictation and coding each day
  • Clinic staff enters orders and prepares after-visit summary

 

Physicians in the weak productivity/weak satisfaction quadrant exhibited the following behaviors and characteristic to observers

  • Lack of “being there” emotionally
  • Lack of smiling
  • Abrupt actions
  • Behavior changes when not interested in the “case”
  • Patients kept waiting and wondering
  • No handshake
  • Sense of interrogating to get a diagnosis
  • No attempt to match the patient’s energy

 

What struck me about these lists was that were dominated by the presence (strong productivity/strong satisfaction) or absence (weak productivity/weak satisfaction) of communication-related “behaviors and characteristics.”

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the behaviors and characteristics of physicians in the strong productivity/strong satisfaction are consistent with those traits commonly associated with a patient-centered style of communications. This evidence belies the conventional belief among physicians that they will be less productive (rather than more productive) by adopting a patient-centered style of communications with their patients.

Based upon the evidence, HealthPartners has since gone on to provide its physicians with useful guidelines for how to improve their productivity and patient experience scores.

Take Aways Physicians and practice managers need to seriously reexamine:

  1. their assumptions about the value of and barriers to improving their patient communication skills
  2. the evidence in support of the adoption patient-centered communications skills and styles

 

Physicians and managers should consider assessing the quality and effectiveness of their existing patient communication skills. The last time most physicians focused on their patient communication skills was back in medical school.

Implement interventions and guidelines designed to improve the patient-centered communication skills of physicians and their care teams.

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

[wysija_form id="3"]

 

Sources:

Boffeli, T., et al. Patient Experience and Physician Productivity: Debunking the Mythical Divide at HealthPartners Clinics. The Permanente Journal/ Fall 2012/ Volume 16 No. 4.

Thoughts On Patient Engagement, Patient-Centeredness and Communication-Centered Medical Records

5

Sometimes I come across a post that I absolutely must share… such is the case with this re-print of a post by Rob Lamberts, MD, a primary care physician practicing “somewhere in the southeastern United States.” He blogs regularly at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind), where this post first appeared.

“Patient engagement.”

What is “Patient Engagement?”  It sounds like a season of “The Bachelor” where a doctor dates hot patients.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it was. After all, patient engagement is hot; it’s the new buzz phrase for health wonks.  There was even an entire day at the recent HIMSS conference dedicated to “Patient engagement.”  I think the next season of “The Bachelor” should feature a wonk at HIMSS looking for a wonkettes to love.

Here’s how the Internets define “Patient engagement”:

  • The Get Well Network (with a smiley face) calls it: “A national health priority and a core strategy for performance improvement.”
  • Leonard Kish refers to it as “The Blockbuster Drug of the Century” (it narrowly beat out Viagra) – HT to Dave Chase.
  • Steve Wilkins refers to it as “The Holy Grail of Health Care” (it also narrowly beat out Viagra) – HT to Kevin MD.
  • On the HIMSS Patient Engagement Day, the following topics were discussed:
    • How to make Patients Your Partners in Satisfying Meaningful Use Stage 2 Objectives; Case Studies in Patient Engagement, session #64;
    • Review Business Cases for Implementing a Patient-Centered Communication Strategy and Building Patient 2.0, session #84;: and
    • Engaging People in Health Through Consumer-Facing Devices and Tools, session #102.

 

So then, “patient engagement” is:

  • a strategy
  • a drug
  • a grail (although I already have a grail)
  • a “meaningful use” objective
  • something that requires a business case
  • something that requires “consumer-facing devices and tools” (I already have one of those too).

 

I hope that clears things up.

So why am I being so snarky about this?  Why make fun of a term used by many people I trust and respect?  I was recently discussing my ideas on a communication-centered medical record with a colleague.  At the end of my pontification, my friend agreed, saying: “you are right; communication is an important part of health care.”  I surprised him by disagreeing.  Communication isn’t important to health care, communication is health care. Care is not a static thing, it is the transaction of ideas. The patient tells me what is going on, I listen, I share my thoughts with the patient (and other providers), and the patient uses the result of this transaction for their own benefit.

But our fine system doesn’t embrace this definition.  We indict ourselves when we talk about “patient engagement” as if it’s a goal, as it reveals the current state of disengagement .  Patients are not the center of care.  Patients are a source of data so doctors can get “meaningful use” checks.  Patients are the proof that our organizations are accountable.  Patients live in our “patient-centered” medical homes.

Replacing patients as the object of our attention (and affection) is our dear friend, the medical record.  We faun over medical records.  Companies earn epic profits from medical records.  We hold huge conferences to celebrate medical records.  We charge patients money to get to see their own medical records.  We even build special booths (portals) where patients are allowed to peer in through a peep hole and see parts of their medical records.

This is why I’ve had such a hard time finding a record system for my new practice.  I want my IT to center on patients, but medical record systems are self-absorbed.  They are an end in themselves.  They are all about making records, not engaging patients.  They are for the storage of ideas, not the transfer of them.  Asking medical records to engage patients is like asking a dictionary to tell a story.

The problem is, documentation has taken over health care.  Just as the practice of a religion can overshadow its purpose: the search for God, documentation chokes out the heart of health care: the communication of ideas .  It did this because we are paid to document, not communicate.  Communication takes time and it is not reimbursed.  Communication prevents unnecessary care, which is a revenue stream.  Communication eliminates waste, and waste is food that feeds the system, the bricks that build the wings to hospitals, the revenue source that pads IT budgets.

So what’s a doctor to do?  I’m not sure.  I am still looking for a solution that will meet the central goals of my practice:

  • Communication – health care is a hassle,  with communication relegated to the exam room.  I want care to be easily accessible for my patients,using IT in one of its strongest areas: tools for easy communication.
  • Collaboration – the patient should be engaged, but in a two-way relationship.  This means they not only should have access to their records, they should contribute to those records.
  • Organization – I want a calendar documenting visits, symptoms, problems, medications, past and future events in each patient’s record.  I also want a task-management system I share with patients to make sure care gets done.
  • Education – I want to practice high-quality medicine, care that is informed by good information and the best evidence.  Why not do a yearly stress test?  There’s evidence for that.  Why not use antibiotics for sinus infections?  There’s evidence there.  Why use an ACE inhibitor to control the blood pressure?  I need to be able to support my recommendations with data, not just “because the doctor said so.”

 

The point of all of this is the moving of medicine from an industry where money is milked from disease to a communications network where diseases are prevented.  ”Patient engagement” that is done to the patient for the sake of the doctor or hospital is a sham.  Engagement is about interaction, listening, and learning in relationship to another person.  Engagement is not a strategy, it is care.

If only I could find the tools to make this happen.

Shared Decision Making – Not Ready For Prime Time – Nor Evidently Is Patient-Centered Care

14

When it comes to delivering truly patient-centered care…how are providers supposed to know when they have “arrived”?   According to Michael Berry, MD, President of the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation, providers will know they have achieved the “pinnacle of patient-centered care” when they routinely engage their patients in shared decision-making (SDM).

Pinnicle of patient-centered communications

In theory, shared decision-making (aka collaborative decision-making) is what is supposed to happen between patients and their doctors when faced with a difficult choice.  Clinicians engaging in shared decision-making would provide patients with information pertaining to the need for the treatment, the available options, as well as the benefits and risks.  But patient-centered clinicians would also do something else. They would attempt to work with patients to arrive at a decision they could both live with.  A kind of “shared mind” that takes into consideration their clinical perspective as well as the patient’s perspective – their preferences, needs, and values (which ideally have been captured over the course of the patient-provider relationship).

The Problem Is That Most Physicians Don’t Really Engage Patients In Shared Decision Making  

 A 2003 study surveyed U.S. physicians (N=1,217) preferences and actual practices regarding shared decision-making.  Table 1 presents a summary of findings from this study.

Table 1

Decision Making Style

What Physicians Preferred

What Physicians Actually Do

Shared decision-making

58%

37%

Physician-dominant decision-making

28%

43%

No patient involvement

9%

13%

Patient dominant decision-making

5%

7%

While most physicians in the study may philosophically believe in and prefer shared decision-making…as this data indicates that is not what most physicians in the study reported actually doing.  In fact, 56% of physicians reported that they actually engaged in decision-making that was physician-dominated (with some patient involvement) or totally physician-dominated decision-making behavior (absent any patient involvement).

The Barriers To Shared Decision Making?

The barriers to SDM include the usual suspects:

  •  Lack of time during the visit
  • Not having access to the right decision support aids tools and training their use
  • Physician attitudes about patient’s willingness to engage in shared decision-making
  • Provider reliance upon a physician-directed (versus patient-centered) style of communicating with patients

The Take Away – Why Shared Decision Making Matters

  •  SDM is the right thing to do – the benefits associated with SDM include better outcomes, lower utilization and cost, lower malpractice risk and enhanced patient trust and satisfaction
  •  SDM is a great way to be engaging to patients – it is a way to get patients involved in their care in a meaningful way they can relate to.
  • To be eligible to participate in Medicare’s Shared Savings Program, Accountable Care Organizations must implement processes to promote patient engagement, including shared decision-making.

As readers of Mind the Gap know, I am a proponent of the adoption of patient-centered communication by providers, beginning with primary care.   Shared decision-making has rightly been identified as a leading indicator when it comes to assessing the “patient-centeredness’ of a physician practice.   So before you go around telling everyone how patient-centered your provider teams are first do a reality check.  Because if you aren’t regularly engaging your patients in shared decision making you are not there yet.

That’s my opinion…what’s your?

Sources:

Heisler, M. et al. Physicians’ participatory decision-making and quality of diabetes care processes and outcomes: results from the triad study. Chronic Illness. 2009 Sep;5(3):165-76

Street, R. et al  The importance of communication in collaborative decision making: facilitating shared mind and the management of uncertainty. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 17 (2011) 579–584.

Frosch, D., et al. An Effort To Spread Decision Aids In Five California Primary Care Practices Yielded Low Distribution, Highlighting Hurdles. Health Affairs. 32, no.2 (2013):311-320.

We Doctors Are Required To Do What’s In The Patient’s Best Interest…But We Are Not Required To “Like” Every Patient We Treat

17

Don S. Dizon , MD, FACP

This post was originally published on ASCOconnection.org, the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s professional networking site

“Great,” I thought, as I stood at my desk, looking at my patient list early in the morning. She was coming in today. “She” was a patient of mine in her forties, with newly diagnosed triple-negative breast cancer, without nodal involvement. Our first meeting had been several months ago, and it had not been a good one.

I had asked about her history, how she presented; she had been fairly surprised I did not have that information. “You mean, you don’t know?” she had asked. “I would’ve expected you to at least have read my chart or talked to my surgeon,” she said. Then, with a sigh, she had recounted how she got to this point—finding a mass, the normal mammogram, the ultrasound-guided biopsy, receiving her diagnosis. Then surgery, more results, culminating in a referral to me. Every question I asked was met with a furrowed brow, as if I were interrupting her.

“It must be really shocking to be here. No one our age expects something like this to happen,” I said.

She had gotten angry at this. “Just concentrate on the facts, please. I don’t need your pity. What I want is your expertise.”

We launched in to a discussion about her diagnosis, stage, and natural history of the disease. She questioned everything we discussed: “Are you sure your statistics are right? From what I read, it’s more like this . . .” I remember getting defensive, as if each question back to me was a personal attack on my competence as a physician, as an oncologist. I remember feeling flushed as we talked, trying to get my point across as clearly as possible, yet feeling that she did not (and was never) going to “believe” me.

We then discussed chemotherapy—both standard treatments and those available on clinical trials. She had even more questions:

“Why should I get doxorubicin? I heard I’ll be throwing up all day. Are you sure I need it?”

“How is a clinical trial better for me? There’s still a 50% chance I can get doxorubicin, so why is this even an option?”

We covered alternative approaches—ones that did not involve doxorubicin and were available off a clinical trial. I then rendered a recommendation taking into account her tumor, her priorities and beliefs, and what the evidence told me. We talked some more and I fielded additional questions; then I asked her if there was anything else she wanted to discuss.

“Not for you.” She said. I looked to the floor and left the room.

As time passed, I resented having to see her and take care of her because despite what I perceived as my best efforts, I felt we had no real doctor-patient relationship. Each subsequent meeting was tense because I felt more and more certain that (a) she didn’t trust me and (b) she did not like me. I had expected her to find a new doctor—within my practice or somewhere else—but she did not. Indeed, I remember being surprised (and anxious) each time she showed up.

On that day she showed up on my list, I confessed something to my partners: “I don’t like this woman,” I said. They looked at me, shocked. “You should not say that,” one had said. “It’s not her fault she has cancer, and people cope in very different ways.”

Although much time has passed, this patient stays with me because it was perhaps one of my most difficult patient relationships—not because she had questions, but because, as sometimes happens, I felt we did not “connect,” despite my trying really hard to make her like me, and to see that I was a good and decent doctor.

As I developed this blog, I decided to show it to a very dear friend, Dr. Barbara Rabinowitz, whose advice and guidance have been important to me on a number of occasions, particularly when we served on the board of a national organization together. I had wondered what she thought of my experience.

Dr. Rabinowitz:

I do believe we hold high and sometimes unrealistic expectations of ourselves. In spite of your usual ease and rapport with patients, the experience you describe above is far from unknown. According to Haas et al., studies have shown that about 15% of the time physicians experience working with “difficult patients.”

In my experience, health care providers often feel trapped by the resultant negative feelings of these non-satisfying relationships. Though not in this case, difficulties may arise in the physician-patient relationship stimulated by pressures from the health care system itself (time allotted for visits, etc.), from undiscussed differences in expectations between the patient and physician, and the patient’s own previously held (and perhaps undiagnosed) conditions (e.g., personality disorders, etc.). Not uncommonly in cancer care, the free-floating anger at having been diagnosed with cancer may also be aimed at one or more members of the cancer care team.

I believe there is an even greater pressure to “like every patient” in cancer care than in general practice, as in this case, as exemplified by the reactions of your colleagues to your frustrated admission.

Ultimately, I clarified something with my partners: “I did not say anything about having cancer being ‘her fault’—I said I did not like her.”

With that, I realized that even with our white coats on, we possess our feelings, likes, dislikes, and personalities. Medicine requires us to do what is in the best interests of our patients, to “do no harm.” It does not compel us, however, to “like” everyone we treat. As a result, I experienced something interesting—almost liberating. I found that subsequent discussions and encounters with this patient became easier and that I was able to listen to her questions and answer them without getting defensive.

I realized that when I stopped trying to make her like me, I was able to take care of her. The pressure of wanting to be “liked” faded. It dawned on me that I was working so hard to make her like me (and vice versa), that it was affecting my ability to care for her. Once I admitted to myself that it was okay to not like a patient, I was able to do what she wanted me to do—to be her doctor.

At the end of the day, doctors are not a deity—omnipresent and omniscient. We are people—we are fallible, prone to our prejudices and our preferences, insecurities, and biases. I have learned that to become a good doctor, one must be honest with one’s self and exert introspection in order to become self aware; to admit that maybe the difficult patient is perceived as difficult not because of who or what she says, but rather the pressures we put on ourselves to “like” everyone we treat.

HIT-Driven Patient Engagement Is A Bust – Effective Patient Engagement Begins With The Doctor-Patient Relationship

21

I hate saying I told you so.  But to quote myself…”patient engagement is a physician-patient communications challenge and not an HIT (Health Information Technology) challenge.”

Just take a look at the Mayo Clinic’s patient portal experience which was discussed at a HIMMS 2013 and reported on in HIT industry press.

The Headline

Mayo Clinic Struggles To Meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use Thresholds For Engaging Patients.

Always innovating, the Mayo Clinic some three years ago introduced a web-based portal to share information with their patients.  During that time some 240,000 patients have signed up for online accounts.  That’s pretty impressive.  But there’s a problem.  A BIG PROBLEM.

Build ItAccording to Eric Manley, product manager of global solutions at the Mayo Clinic, they are having a hard time “getting more than 5% “of all the patients who registered with the patient portal to actually use it.   You see in order to meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements, and enjoy the benefits that come with meeting this criteria, people actually have to use the portal to access their own health information.  You just can’t build a portal and in Mayo’s case have fewer than 12,000 unique patients actually use it.    Actually you can…hospitals and physicians do it all the time…they just can’t get incentive payments for their efforts.

 So What Went Wrong?

It’s not like the folks at Mayo haven’t tried.  Mayo’s patient portal offer all the requisite techie gizmos – giving patients access to their medical record, lab results, appointment schedule, and lots of health information.  They also recently introduced their first patient-directed mobile health app call “Patient” which makes it easy for people to access their health information online.   Mayo even has a Center for Innovation to figure this kind of stuff out.

Upon reflection Manley admits that “simply making services available doesn’t cut it,” he said. “Unless you are engaging patients, you won’t meet meaningful use requirements. [Messaging and other mechanisms] need to be a part of your practice.”

But Wait – I Thought Patient Portals, EMRS and Health Apps Were Patient Engagement Strategies?? You Mean We Need To Do More?

Manley is quoted as saying that “patient engagement has been a part of what Mayo has done for a long time, meaningful use, especially Stage 2, is a catalyst to kick it up a notch.”

Let’s face it.  Meaningful Use maybe a good way to get providers to adopt badly needed HIT improvements – but it not a great way to force patients to “engage” with you.   Here’s why.

1)    Forcing patients to do anything is wrong and antithetical to the whole idea of patient-centeredness…even if you think it is in the patient’s best interest. Meeting Meaningful Use seems to take precedence over what the patient wants.  Manley is quoted as saying “just having it [information and portals] out there isn’t enough”…”It’s making the patient use them.”

2)    Patients want to engage with other people regarding their health, particularly their physicians. Health after all is an intensely personal and social affair.  Mobile health apps and email just can’t give patients want they want – to be listened to and understood.  Plus 85% of people want face-to-face access to their physician when they want it.  Patients know that HIT threatens to get in between them and their doctors.

3)    The content on most patient portals is not particularly relevant or engaging after the first 10 seconds….at least from the patient’s perspective.   After all, cognitive involvement is a prerequisite of meaningful engagement and it tough to be interested and spend time thinking about information that is not in context (of a medical encounter), you don’t understand, find boring, completely inaccurate or irrelevant.

So What Is The Solution?

There’s no question that if done right patient portals can and do work.  One need look no further than Kaiser Permanente, Group Health and the VA for great examples.  The key to their success…and hopefully every provider’s success…is integration.

Health care for us patients occurs within the context of social relations with our physicians.  To be engaging…the information you want to share with us needs to be relevant to us from our perspective, come from our physician and be integrated into our overall care plan.    Only then will we have the trust and confidence that the information is ours…and is something we need to pay attention to.  We focus on our health while we are in the doctor’s office…if you really want to engage us…do it there.

That’s my opinion…what’s yours?

Patient-Centeredness, Patient Engagement & Health Care Quality Improvement – A Physician’s Perspective

16

naikA guest post by Aanand D. Naik, MD -  Chief, Education and Training Core in Health Services Research at Department of Veterans Affairs, Michael E. DeBakey VAMC and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Houston, Texas.   Reposted from the Blog GeriPal

Improving the health outcomes of older adults with multiple chronic morbidities has been my calling as a physician.  During residency, my colleagues were interested in difficult, rare, or novel cases.  In contrast, I was attracted to the lingering, multiple everyday conditions that older adults faced.  I was also struck by the fact that providing all the recommended screening and treatments for each of their conditions often did more harm than good.

It became immediately clear to me that my role as a clinician was to partner with my patients.  In the end, it was the patient and their family that had to identify health and life goals, prioritize which of those goals were most important, and then work with clinicians to find treatments that best aligned with one’s goals and values.  From this perspective, “non-adherence is a dysfunctional concept.”  The quintessential signs of poor quality of care for multimorbid older adults, e.g., polypharmacy, overutilization, adverse events, often result from a discordance of values and goals between clinicians and patients.

Based on these formative experiences as a newbie physician, I chose to focus on patient-centeredness as a distinct dimension of healthcare quality and identify pathways in which patient-centeredness leads to patient engagement, collaborate goal-setting and improved health outcomes.  More recently, I’ve explored the ‘patient experience’ itself.  Appreciating how someone experiences illness, healthcare, changes in health status and personal growth has profound impacts on how we understand healthcare quality.

Policy experts and researchers often view quality through the lens of expertise, large datasets, and multivariate analysis.  While this perspective has its merits and applications; assessments of quality for most goods and services is intuitive, normative (value-based), and socially constructed. Therefore, we cannot improve healthcare quality without patient engagement; which means communicating about health and healthcare in ways that make quality intuitively obvious to the everyday patient. There are many clinicians, policy experts, patients, and caregivers who think that only experts can judge quality. This perspective is anachronistic—a vestige of a professional view more consistent with a medieval guild rather than the 21st century industrial complex healthcare has become.

This absurd perspective—that patients cannot or should not be asked to understand and judge healthcare quality is the principal cause of hyperinflation within the American healthcare system.  It is ironic that Ford and Apple can create immensely complex products and then ask people of all stripes to judge quality and make high dollar purchases without first taking a crash course in automotive engineering or computer science. There are no screening tests for literacy of the internal combustion engine or static random access memory chip.  From this vantage, patient-centeredness exists when patients can intuitively judge the quality of their chronic illness care just like the quality of their smart phone.

As a first step, patient-centeredness is an approach that engages the patient, focuses patient-clinician discussions on the needs of patients, and opens the door to conversations about values and goals.  The next step is an alignment of treatment priorities with one’s goals and values and then selecting and judging specific treatments that meet those priorities.  Along the way, we will need novel approaches to communicating about and grasping the inherent value of health services and treatments.

This brave new patient-centered world does not diminish the role of clinicians. The key to improving the health outcomes of our older patients (and the overall quality of our healthcare system) is through re-investment in dialogue between patients and clinicians and a strengthening of trust within the patient-clinician relationship.

Follow Aanand Naik, MD on Twitter @empoweringpts