9 Tips to Get Patients Actively Involved in Improving Their Health Outcomes

You can’t pick up a paper or listen to a news show without hearing a piece on the challenges taking place in our healthcare system today.

This attention is warranted, as according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, when they tell us that healthcare spending in the U.S. is at $3.3 trillion or $10,348 per person.  As a share of the nation's Gross Domestic Product, health spending accounted for 17.9 percent. We are told that we as a country cannot sustain this spending because it impacts what have to spend on other important areas such as education, infrastructure and addressing the needs of the population as a whole. In addition to escalating costs, people who use the healthcare system are not satisfied with the care they receive.  

The Move to Value-Based Care

As a result of the rising costs of healthcare and poor satisfaction ratings, hospitals, physician practices and all stakeholders are working hard to come up with innovative ways to contain healthcare spending and improve the patient experience. The U.S. government has worked on this issue over the years and has come up with various programs trying to curb spending. The latest strategy involves value-based programs that reward healthcare providers with incentive payments for the quality of care they provide to people. These programs are part of a larger quality strategy to reform how healthcare is delivered and paid for. Value-based programs support the three goals:

  1. Better care for individuals
  2. Better health for populations
  3. Lower cost

Currently this strategy is working its way through every sector of the healthcare system with mixed results. What healthcare professionals are finding when they analyze the roadblocks, is that the missing link to making the project work is the patient.

Healthcare professionals are learning that if the patient and their families, the consumers of healthcare services, are not involved in the process, value-based care does not work.

Healthcare leaders and professionals are starting to realize that the patient has to be part of the team. They are realizing that all members of the healthcare team needs to understand the goals of each patient they care for so that the plan of care can be designed to meet the patient’s goals and not the goals of the healthcare system as many times they do not align.

How to Get Patients to Join the Value-Based Care Team

Here are nine tips to share with your patients to help them be the captain of their healthcare journey. Help patients implement these tips into their routine to improve their care and health outcomes:

1. Find A Healthcare Advocate 

As a nurse of over 40 years, I thought I knew how the system works. But becoming a patient who was impaired cognitively for the first few weeks of my healthcare encounter taught me that regardless of my experience, I needed an advocate.  Having someone with you is critical to ensure you are safe and have a voice in your care. A patient advocate can be a family member or friend who has the time to accompany them to medical appointments and visit them in the hospital. As most family members and friends are busy, they may need more than one person to step in as their advocate. Therefore, patients should take time to look at their circle of family and friends to see who can help them. They should also choose someone who will help them carry out instructions from their medical professionals to help improve their outcomes. Patients should talk to their advocate ahead of time about their wishes and sharing  advanced directives. Communication is key between the patient and their advocate. Five Wishes is a great tool to get patients started in thinking about advanced directives. 

2. Get Patients Involved In Advocacy Groups

One way to help patients stay involved in their healthcare organization is encouraging them to join their Patient and Family Advisory Council. Doing so allows the organization to understand the needs of the patients and caregivers who utilize their services. Today, quality, safety, and the patient experience are tied to reimbursement that adds to revenue of hospitals and doctors’ offices when outcomes are positive. Organizations that understand their patients and the caregiver’s perspective are able to make improvements. Most hospitals have a Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) that welcomes volunteers.

3. Complete Patient Surveys

Patients should always complete the short surveys they get after a visit. People are paying close attention to these surveys so they’re well worth the small amount of time it takes to complete them. Encourage your patients to be honest with their input and offer a suggestion for improvement if they have a complaint. 

4. Review Their Face sheet

Most patients don’t know what a face sheet is, but it’s important that they get a chance to review the face sheet when they are scheduled for an appointment or admitted to the hospital. The reason for this is that many times the information is wrong. The face sheet is where healthcare providers and staff go for information about patients--including contact info, medical history, patient's preferences and wishes, etc.--so having patients review the information will help ensure they get the highest quality of care possible.

5. Communication Is Key

A patient should always feel comfortable calling their doctor. If they get a fever, notice a rash or feel sick, they should know it’s okay to pick up the phone. Even if it is after hours or on a weekend. If the physician is not available to take calls they will have someone on call who can return the call and give appropriate direction. If the doctor is unavailable and there is no one to return their call, be sure your patients know they should go to the urgent care center or emergency department. This is especially true if they are receiving chemotherapy or getting other types of treatment that can leave them open to serious infections if not recognized early.  

6. Prepare for the Visit

Whether it is for a doctor's visit, therapy session or hospital stay, patients should always prepare to make the most of their time with providers. Encourage them to write down any questions or concerns they may have. No question is stupid or unnecessary. Healthcare providers cannot anticipate every problem, so having patients share their concerns or questions is the best way to meet the patients individual needs.

7. Utilize Patient Portals

The patient portal is a way for patients to communicate with their doctors and access many of their medical records. Information on patient portal systems and how you can access it can usually be acquired at the front desk. Some patient portals can make checking on lab or other diagnostic tests easier. In addition, insurance companies will also have a portal to review bills and ask questions related to insurance. These are important tools that can help the patient stay actively involved in their care. 

8. Keep Records

Patients should get a binder and put copies of their medical records into the binder. Having those records in the binder will allow them to pull out a document a provider may not have seen. Keeping the provider informed allows the patient to avoid duplication of services and medical errors. 

9. Share Their Stories 

It’s also important for patients to share their stories. If they have an idea on how to better advocate for themselves, they should share so others can learn too. Patients can participate in social media groups, contribute to blogs, join support groups for your similar care population.

I hope these tips help patients receive the best care possible. Remember, patients are the most important member of your healthcare team. Keeping them involved will help to improve their care and outcomes.

About the Author

Anne Llewellyn, RN-BC, MS, BHSA, CCM, CRRN, is a registered nurse with 40 years of experience in critical care, risk management, case management, patient advocacy,...

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