Defining a Patient-Focused Organization

August 10, 2016

With the increased emphasis on patient satisfaction and quality of care it is helpful to ask yourself if your practice is a patient-focused organization.

As a physician who owns a medical practice you are basically operating a business, which of course, has customers (patients) - people who come to your establishment to purchase goods or services. Good customer service ensures that patients will return to your practice for ongoing medical care, and also recommend it to others. With the increased emphasis on patient satisfaction and quality of care it is helpful to ask yourself if your practice is a patient-focused organization. Or conversely, is your organization one that is physician-focused? There is a difference.

My question is not meant to be critical, but rather to challenge you to think about what your practice does operationally. (For instance, is your schedule designed to meet the needs of the patient or the physician?)

To find out the answer to my question, ask yourself these five things:

1. What is the patient is looking for?

To discover what the patient is looking for requires measurement through surveys, focus groups, and the like. It may seem obvious that patients are looking for good care, but not always, since they also may want respect, fairness, adequate communication, and short wait times.

• Do you have a mechanism to measure what is desired?

• If so, do you act on it in some fashion that shows that you care about the feedback and seek to improve your overall operation?

• Do you check the internet for any feedback that is in the social media sphere? And respond by fixing things and notreacting defensively or posting comments?

2. What is the patient's relationship with the physician?

• Do patients feel like a number, rushed through the care process and not able to ask and receive answers to their questions?

• How effective and complete is physician-staff-patient communication?

• Is there empathy shown to the patient?

• Is patient care appropriate, and is time spent explaining why patient-requested treatments and/or new medications may not be the best solution?

3. Is the staff responsive to patient concerns?

Remember, the physician is not the only one providing care, the entire office as a team provides the services desired by patients.

• Does your whole team focus on meeting patient needs, or is the focus based on some other "trigger," like running on schedule or collecting all copays?

4. What are the obstacles to providing patient-focused care?

• Poor bedside manner.

• The need to increase volume, which decreases time available for each patient.

• Fragmentation of care with regard to location of services, physician's referrals, and the like.

5. What is the role of the physician and the patient?

In today's world younger patients are more likely to take an active role in their healthcare - especially the generation X and millennial age groups. Baby boomers are often happier taking the traditional role of patient - one that gives the physician full decision-making authority. So the provider should define each patient's desired style of decision making, as well as his personal comfort level with each of these approaches:

• Active: Patients prefer to make decisions after input from their provider; patients will make the final decision.

• Passive: Providers will make healthcare decisions after input from the patient; patient accepts the provider's decision.

• Collaborative: Patients desire joint decision making between themselves and the provider.

There is no right or wrong approach, simply the need to understand the situation and the personalities involved.

The key then is to gain an understanding of the patient perspective, remove obstacles, and to be as transparent and proactive as possible in meeting the needs of each "customer" or wait - patient.