For years, the healthcare industry has been abuzz with talk about patient-centered care and how it contributes to improved patient experience, Care team decision making, and health outcomes. But what are the principles of patient-centered care, and what’s the best way to implement them into your care plans?
The British healthcare research firm Picker Institute has homed in on 8 Principles of Patient-Centered Care that have proven helpful for every Care team striving to master patient-centered decision making and improve the patient experience by incorporating family members. by integrating patients’ values, physical support, emotional support, as well as patient preferences along with family members’ trusted contributions into their clinical decisions.
Follow these evidence-based principles when making and implementing clinical decisions that help your Care team master patient-centered care and enjoy better health outcomes:
1. Address individual patient preferences, needs, and values
According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, patient-centered Care teams forge strong patient-clinician partnerships by going beyond the biomedical paradigm to leverage a biopsychosocial integration of care. This means centering your care plan around patient preferences, needs, and values to improve the patient experience. Start with these steps:
The most critical of the principles of patient-centered care requires healthcare providers to promote effective, compassionate communication, which starts with active listening — to the patient and the family members who know them best. It means addressing your patients’ needs (medical and nonmedical) and integrating patients’ values, beliefs, fears, instincts, and reactions to traumatic life events — then, ensuring their physical comfort while offering emotional support for optimal patient-centered care.
Effective communication between various healthcare providers and caregivers enables integration of care for better health outcomes. When you integrate your patients’ values and their caretakers’ and family members’ suggestions into your Care team’s decision-making, you provide emotional support and build trust. This nurtures patient-provider relationships in every healthcare system and care setting — from ambulatory care to the ER. These relationships are critical in times of stressful acute events, pain management emergencies, or serious illness when the support of all caregivers and family members contributes to clinical decisions that promote patient-centered care.
Know the patient
Getting to know the whole person behind the patient is one of the most enjoyable dimensions of patient-centered care. Understanding patients’ values will allow you to earn their trust and improve their care experience — so that you’ll soon see your team crossing the quality chasm.
Involvement of family in clinical decisions is often the key to influencing patients’ values enough to inspire them to follow your care plan and return for critical follow-up healthcare services. Learning about your patient also makes clear which family and friends are most likely to be active Care team partners so you can regularly share information and education with those individuals.
Document patient needs
Maintaining a record of each patient’s needs and care plan stages for all clinicians, family, friends, and community service providers to see is critical. The following will also help:
- Offer longer in-person appointments.
- Create a proactive care plan that enables specialist referrals.
- Implement user-friendly knowledge-sharing.
- Establish shared decision-making during the exploration of all available clinical options.
- Monitor and follow up to keep up with patients’ changing needs.
- Support patients’ self-management goals.
- Provide online and in-person peer support programs for patients with chronic illnesses.
Leverage patient-centered care technology
Care Management platforms can help you build a 360-degree view of patients for smoother integration of care. They can enable providers to intervene to make sure patients attend preventative and primary care visits, improving the quality of care. The right program will enable a strong relationship between providers and patients, encouraging more frequent touchpoints and communication. This makes them feel they are truly being cared for, increasing patient satisfaction.
An effective Care Management program can help you reduce administrative tasks and streamline care. Not only does it increase meaningful patient engagements, but it also frees up time to support more patients overall. This extra time enables you to more easily scale your organization and increase your patient reach.
2. Ensure full team information and education
All Care team members affect the patient’s relationship with the team — so you have to get them all on board. Embracing the principles of patient-centered care and becoming a high-functioning Care team means deliberately defining roles and responsibilities. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, everyone should access necessary information and meet patient needs by doing the following:
- Establishing accountability and responsibility of each team member
- Communicating and sharing knowledge
- Enabling care transitions
- Regularly monitoring and assessing a patient’s changing needs and goals
- Following a proactive care plan
- Expanding your team by connecting with community resources
- Aligning resources with patient and population needs
Leverage information and education-centric technology
Make sure your Care team is leveraging health information technology to extend care options beyond the office visit via patient portal, secure email, smartphone app, or online health risk assessment with personalized feedback loops. A Care Management platform that was designed for clinicians will help you streamline care plans, improve workflow management, and enhance team communication.
3. Provide health information and education
The principles of patient-centered care promote informed decision-making — a process that requires you to provide patients with information and education about their conditions and treatment options. When patients are more knowledgeable about their care and potential treatment options, they’re better able to identify what kind of healthcare they do and don’t want and to make informed decisions about treatments.
According to Patient Engagement HIT, patients who have easy access to care and their health information are better able to monitor chronic conditions, adhere to treatment plans, find and fix errors, and contribute their information to research and treatment development.
Leverage technology for coordination and integration
When you centralize your Care team members’ communication on a platform that was built with them in mind, coordination and integration of patient protocols become much more efficient and effective.
Make communication simple for your patients by using the contact method of their choice. Serve people on more channels to ensure continuous connection. Put trust back into the healthcare experience by allowing your patient to reach you anytime by centralizing communication and enabling integration of care with these channels:
- HIPAA-compliant healthcare integration
4. Maintain patients’ physical comfort
The International Journal for Quality in Healthcare found that the experience of comfort is highly personal, contextual, and influenced by different factors in each patient that researchers have classified into a guiding framework.
They’ve found that physical comfort entails a sense of positivity characterized not only by relief of pain or discomfort, but feelings of confidence, competence, self-control, and a sense of being cared for, valued, safe, at ease, and at peace. Children have described comfort in terms of feeling safe and not sad.
Practice and quality improvement decisions must be made from an understanding of the patient’s perspectives in the context of their healthcare condition, culture, and care setting. Leveraging technology via telehealth check-ins, reminder texts, and symptom-tracking apps enables you to monitor and intervene to ensure patients’ physical comfort needs are met.
5. Provide emotional support
Once you’ve established a rapport, it’s much easier to express empathy and make your patients feel cared for. On the most basic level, that includes introducing yourself, being polite, creating a friendly environment by maintaining eye contact, and ensuring there’s nothing in your office environment that may distract patients from your conversation.
Emotional support includes sitting with patients and making them feel accompanied in their struggles by directly answering questions, making supportive gestures, and, when appropriate, holding their hand.
A study published in Healthy Debate confirms that patient emotional support — and hence, patient satisfaction — is linked to better clinical outcomes, and that real healing may be delayed or denied until patients feel they have been heard, understood, and empathized with. It also acknowledges the difficulty many health care professionals have following this most important principle of patient-centered care, as they’re inundated with administrative tasks and running on autopilot.
As one head of emergency services at a Canadian hospital put it: “We get so good at the task that we end up seeing things only through our own eyes.” Seeing through your patients’ eyes will help you instinctively provide emotional support and improve the patient experience.
How technology enhances the patient experience
Seeing through your patients’ eyes is much easier once you’ve removed administrative burdens from your Care team with a centralized Care Management platform, allowing them to focus on improving the patient experience — as well as their own.
When you use analytics to drive decision-making, you can measure, collect, and analyze data points of patient engagement, then use the data to drive improvements. Automated surveys can help you measure the patient experience and analyze data to improve efficiency. You can also evaluate entire Care teams — not just individual providers — to discover gaps in your methodology and workflow. This will also improve employee engagement and ensure that their needs are met.
6. Include family and friends on the Care team
A patient’s family and friends can often make or break a care plan. When they are treated and feel like part of the team, they become much more engaged with diagnosis analysis, treatment research, follow-through, and education support for the patient. They are much more willing and able to provide the emotional support and physical comfort that patients so critically need to fully heal. But they also need to be in constant touch with clinicians and support staff that provide and manage information and education.
Communication with all Care team members, including friends and family, is much easier and more efficient once you’ve integrated communication channels to centralize conversations. Managing treatment takes frequent check-ins and chats through a variety of modalities to give everyone peace of mind that no message has been missed. This kind of team-first care delivery reduces burnout, enabling clinicians to spend more time and energy on the patient experience.
7. Support patients through all care transitions
When patients need to move between health care settings, their physical comfort and healing process can be disrupted. Imagine the access to care gaps that are possible if, for example, a patient sees a primary care physician in an outpatient setting, then transitions to a hospital Care team during an inpatient admission before moving on to yet another set of clinicians in a skilled nursing facility — and finally returns home to see a visiting nurse.
Because strong support during these transitions is associated with reduced risk of readmission, the Joint Commission recommends that your support plan includes the following:
- Multidisciplinary communication, collaboration, and coordination — including patient/caregiver education — from admission through transition
- Clinician involvement and shared accountability during all points of transition
- Comprehensive planning and risk assessment throughout the hospital stay
- Standardized transition plans, procedures, and forms
- Standardized training
- Timely follow-up, support, and coordination after the patient leaves a care setting
Of course, technology supports these steps by supporting real-time communication around a 360-degree profile of patients and streamlining workflows to free up time and energy for improving transition care.
8. Provide fast and reliable access to care
When patients get the right care right when they need it, outcomes improve and costs decrease.
Athena Health lists four common improvements to the principles of patient-centered care that you may already be leveraging:
- Social improvements: Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft are providing transportation services that improve access to care and medications, positively impacting long-term care outcomes and quality of life.
- Cultural improvements: Access to care is still disrupted by language barriers. For some patients, limited English proficiency (LEP) makes it difficult to understand treatment options and medication adherence instructions. The Joint Commission requires hospitals to provide interpreters to patients who request assistance; however, this requirement can be met by tapping existing bilingual staff members.
- Economic improvements: More providers are offering direct primary care through a membership with a modest monthly fee ($50 to $80) for a generous allocation of appointments (often same-day) and access to providers by phone, email, and live chat. In many cases, routine tests and procedures are included.
- Telehealth: The remote delivery of healthcare services via telecommunications systems — including medical information and healthcare education — can improve access to care. Telehealth technology makes this possible from a patient’s home, office, or even car. It allows a person who becomes ill on vacation or during a business trip to access care within minutes. The benefits of telehealth technologies include:
- Lowered cost: Office visits and insurance copays are often accompanied by transportation fees, childcare expenses, and time off work.
- More access: With telehealth, a healthcare provider’s services aren’t restricted to a specific region — so rural patients no longer have to travel for office visits for specialized care or to provide their medical information.
- More touchpoints: Real-time telehealth services allow clinicians to communicate with their patients far more frequently and check in with family, friends, or caretakers as well
- Improved quality of care: Streamlined Care team communication and the sharing of digital health records and patient-generated data help promote holistic, high-quality care via telehealth technologies.
Ready to implement the eight principles of patient-centered care with your team?
If your team is not yet enjoying all the benefits and health outcomes of patient-centered care, you may be wondering how to begin. Taking it one small step at a time helps implement this transformative care delivery model in a way all of your team members can process. Learn how — download our Patient-Centered Care Checklist.