Do you value your patient as a person?

April 11, 2019

To paraphrase Abraham Maslow, once our basic needs are met, the most important thing to people is being valued.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow is perhaps best known for creating Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which defines five levels of needs that must be satisfied. He theorized that when all five levels of needs are met, people reach self-actualization, meaning they achieve their full potential.

For those who may not be familiar with the five levels, they are:

  • Level one – physical survival needs, e.g., food, clothing shelter, and oxygen

  • Level two – physical safety needs, e.g., the need to feel safe from personal dangers and threats

  • Level three – love and belonging, e.g., family or belonging; acceptance and understanding; and loving and affection, both giving and receiving

  • Level four – self-esteem needs, e.g., people need to feel of value and to count for something

  • Level five – self-fulfillment/self-actualization. People can develop to their fullest potential in all aspects of life only after attaining the previous four levels of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.

Some of the hierarchy levels reference value, but what does value mean? According to the Oxford Dictionaries, value is defined as “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.” As a verb, value equates to a good or service’s monetary worth.

Through sympathetic and empathetic patient care, physicians can positively impact and create an environment for better outcomes by asking patients whether their needs are being met.

If someone is struggling financially, then food and shelter may be issues of concern. The solution might be to involve a social worker who can help connect patients to available resources.

For adults or children who experience verbal, physical, or sexual violence, level two needs are not being met. The solution might be to refer patients to the appropriate mental health professional, encourage the practice of yoga and meditation, and alert the appropriate authorities as necessary.

Level three needs of love and belonging may be less visible but are no less important. The solution might be to refer patients to outside resources and mental health professionals. You might also focus more of your time and attention with those patients. Indeed, the facet of imparting a caring and loving environment should be inherent in the physician’s own practice.

Meeting people’s level four needs of self-esteem can be challenging. As a physician or a medical professional, ask yourself, “How do I value my patients?” The monetary aspect may come into play with value-based care, but that is not the answer. Instead, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I making patients part of the discussion about their care and treatment plans?

  • Am I providing positive reinforcement when patients change habits that can lead to better health outcomes?

By involving patients, you are showing the valuable role they have in their health and reinforcing that they know their bodies best (even if they don’t always do what is best for them).

By cultivating a caring environment and valuing your patients, physicians can help patients achieve better health outcomes. That, in turn, leads to improved patient satisfaction, patient compliance, patient outcomes, and value-based care scores. And, as others have found, happier patients are more likely to make referrals and leave better online reviews, which can lead to more new patients. All of these translate into great economic value for you and your practice.

Reframing the patient encounter by focusing on need can be a win-win-win for physicians, patients, and the healthcare industry.

Rachel V. Rose, JD, MBA, advises clients on compliance and transactions in healthcare, cybersecurity, corporate and securities law, while representing plaintiffs in False Claims Act and Dodd-Frank whistleblower cases. She also teaches bioethics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Rachel can be reached through her website, www.rvrose.com.