Many stakeholders have traditionally viewed healthcare as a physician-centered industry, devising care delivery models accordingly. However, surveys of patient satisfaction with this approach reveal that a different perspective is needed, especially as patients are making more decisions about, and taking increased financial responsibility for, their healthcare. When asked what they really want from providers, patients report that their most important concerns center around symptom relief and being respected as individuals.
- Effective treatment and being provided with options are among the most important concerns for patients. As can be expected, patients want their symptoms to be alleviated quickly and to receive care promptly. They rate this as more important than care aimed at disease prevention. They also want to know all their options. When presented with different treatment alternatives, anecdotal evidence is considered more important than statistics.
- Compassion and caring are also high priority. Even if there is little hope for their particular situation, patients want to be treated as if their prognosis is not so dismal. They also want care to be coordinated consistently among the team of providers they have grown accustomed to.
- Patients want to know that they are getting the best care available. They tend to favor treatments consisting of pharmaceuticals and even surgery rather than lifestyle adjustments that could positively impact health. Not surprisingly, they also want to be assured that they will always have access to insurance, with little or no out-of-pocket responsibilities.
- Privacy is also of utmost importance. Patients appreciate confidentiality in medical matters. When hospitalized, they understandably prefer private rooms.
Patients have only a moderate interest in efficiency - the highest value of care provided with the least use of resources. Patients are also less interested in the reasons certain treatments are recommended, as long as they produce the desired results without additional expense to the patient. Furthermore, patients are more concerned about their individual care than if society as a whole has access to quality health services.
Implications for Healthcare Reform
Indicators of patient satisfaction often seem irrational, or at least unrealistic. Nonetheless, they provide insight that can guide you in the paradigm shift toward consumer-driven practices. The Healthcare Education Task Force has developed six principles to help physicians create a patient-centered atmosphere. These key points can help you establish best practices in a variety of healthcare settings.
- At all levels of care, patients should be involved in decision-making.
- Care should be person-centered.
- Providers should establish alternative payment models that provide optimum benefits to consumers.
- Healthcare policies should drive continuous quality improvement.
- Alternative payment and care modelsneed to accelerate effective use of patient-centered information technology systems.
- Reforms should reduce disparities in care delivery, ensuring greater equity.
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Providers sometimes fear that they will be undermined in their efforts to tailor healthcare to individuals and families, or that person-centered care will take too much of their time. However, practices that have already begun structuring care delivery around these guidelines report more positive experiences. Since patients are the recipients of health services, they should be actively engaged at every step of treatment and encouraged to take responsibility for their care. Involving patients and family members has led to a greater awareness of what patients need, and more accountability and transparency among practitioners, empowering them to provide a higher quality of care. Establishing benchmarks also provides a framework for providers to evaluate their progress. Recognizing that there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach, it's imperative to know how to establish policies and processes that promote patient satisfaction and outcomes.