Providing More Consumer-Centric Care with Team Collaboration
A 2017 survey from the Council of Accountable Physician Practices found that consumers believe patient-provider relationships are the most important factor when it comes to quality health care.
With shorter appointments to accommodate more patients, primary care providers don't have the time to spend on fully assessing mental health needs as they would probably like. But the needs of patients are ever evolving. While it's critical to have competent providers that work with patients for disease-management, patients are looking for something more, including having providers help them with mental health issues.
Sometimes that means multiple providers working as a team to improve the health of the whole person. Providing holistic care to patients can look like a lot of things. It can include education, self-help, clear communication, and complementary treatments. Holistic care looks at the health of the whole person—body, mind, and spirit.
What does collaborative care look like?
To truly deliver more personalized healthcare experiences that prioritize patients, it is important to look at the entire patient journey. Oftentimes that means working with other providers to collaborate. Quality interactions between provider and patient are the most important aspect of care. When we look at the research, we can find how providing more consumer-centric care is better for patients in every aspect of the health care they receive.
According to a 2019 study in Annals of Family Medicine, researchers in Nebraska developed a collaborative practice model in an ambulatory care center. They followed 276 patients seen by family practice residents and faculty before and after the center opened. Researchers saw emergency visits, hospitalization, and hemoglobin A1c levels decrease with this interprofessional model.
Collaborative care may look different to each practice, but the overall idea is to extend trusted care to patients for a better experience.
Putting collaborative care in action
Haley Neidich, LCSW, PMH-C, is an online therapist providing tele-mental health treatment in Tampa Bay, Florida. As a psychotherapist specializing in perinatal mental health, she frequently needs to collaborate with OBGYN offices. Since founding her practice in 2014, Neidich approaches the development of relationships with medical practices as a combination between business growth and education.
"Even though I'm an online therapist, I typically walk into practices in-person to introduce myself and provide them with business cards and pamphlets about what I can do and how I can improve their patient care, Neidich explained.
Typically, she's in touch with the OBGYN clinic monthly, and even weekly when her clients are receiving medications from their OB or primary provider. "This set-up is important for practitioners who may be less comfortable prescribing as they know that another professional is monitoring the patient's symptoms," said Neidich. Some providers email her directly while others have support staff to coordinate patient care. Flexibility is important, so her patients get the right level of support.
Dr. Emily Kurlansik, Psy.D., BCBA NCSP, Clinical neuropsychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and nationally certified school psychologist, owns a private practice in Brooklyn, New York. She regularly collaborates and consults with providers ranging from pediatricians to occupational therapists. "This serves to help formulate targeted treatment plans and implement evidence-based interventions in light of an individual’s functioning," Dr. Kurlansik said. This collaboration also helps to clarify diagnoses coordinate services, and outreach to agencies and schools. Her end goal is how this team of providers can best serve the patient.
Challenges to providing collaborative care
Of course, it's not a perfect system. While Neidich was trained in the importance of continuity of care, in the real world, with increasingly high patient volumes, follow-through is often minimal. Her biggest challenge is getting providers on board in the first place. She sees physician practices undervaluing the priority of this care approach. Of course, she added, once able to work with a few patients at these practices, the work she's doing speaks for itself.
"Doctors need to see that psychotherapists can not only help to make their job easier, but we can also help their patients have better outcomes and help reduce the chance that the physician is 'missing' something with regards to the client's mental health," Neidich explained. The reality, she said, is some offices never follow up or even acknowledge receiving her communication. "The lengths that I sometimes have to go to get an office to see how important this is can be disheartening at times—a symptom of a broken medical system."
With any successful implementation, there are always tweaks to make along the way. For instance, some clinics request Neidich to call and wait on a nurse line. Neidich works with office staff to problem solve how she can best communicate with the provider. "Typically, we can come up with one nurse on the team who will serve as a point of contact."
Communication is a major theme when it comes to executing successful consumer-centric care. Transparency and open dialog are key to working through the challenges. Dr. Kurlansik explained it's challenging to make sure everyone on the patient's care team is "on the same page" along with a general agreement on diagnoses and treatment plans.
But with practice, partnering with other care providers takes your business to the next level, even when it comes to increasing your own knowledge base. Dr. Kurlansik sees more opportunities for professional development and improving her own referral stream.
And according to Dr. Kurlansik, this type of collaboration helps families feel "seen" with greater clarity of how to move forward. She also sees her clients adhere better to treatment plans. "Continually providing value to medical offices and demonstrating your effectiveness with their patients," Neidich said, "is the best course of action to improve the quality of care and level of collaboration."
In addition to collaborating with other providers to provide a more holistic, consumer-centric approach to caring for your patients, offering remote care through telehealth is another service that patients appreciate and are asking for.
To find out more about telehealth and how it has expanded since COVID-19, listen to our webinar featuring Susan Dentzer, Senior Policy Fellow of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, which she discusses all things telehealth and the future of this important technology. You can access the webinar here.
Susan covers the evolution of telehealth, its future and what to expect, and best practices to implement virtual and remote care delivery options successfully into your practice or clinic.