What patients really want–and why it’s important for their health

“What patients really want–and why it’s important for their health.” Bill Chesnut, MD.

12/3/2015, 12:00 PM

Getting patients to make healthy lifestyle choices ranks high on every physician’s professional wish list. But realistically accomplishing this goal, especially in a fast-paced health care setting, requires care teams to zero in on what really matters to patients.

Thomas Lee, MD explained at TEDMED 2015 that the best place for physicians to start is building a shared sense of trust and empathy with their patients. Here’s why Dr. Lee says a clear understanding of “patient suffering” can help improve care delivery and unlock the key to successful relationships.

Meeting patient needs in a complex health system
As the chief medical officer for Press Ganey, a health company that consults more than 20,000 health care organizations on strategies to improve patient care, Dr. Lee understands the strenuous juggling act physicians must perform to manage high patient demands, deliver quality care and meet expectations for patient satisfaction in fast-paced health settings.

Increased pressures in practice can lead to missed opportunities for coordinating care, shaky handoffs or forgotten follow up with patients about questions they asked. These missteps attest to “the superficial chaos that’s arrived in health care as a result of advancements in medicine,” Dr. Lee said.

This same chaos often infiltrates daily interactions between physicians, patients and care teams, and erodes patients’ trust in the health care system, Dr. Lee said.

To counter this trend, he urges physicians to instill confidence in their patients by focusing on ways to reduce their suffering. In ideal clinical situations, Dr. Lee said his research has shown that patients often simply want four things: “Good clinicians, communication, teamwork and empathy.”

Empathy helps spur patient action

When exploring new ways to foster patient participation and improve quality care, Dr. Lee urges physicians to shift how they think about patient suffering. This will help physicians build stronger patient relationships, which also can encourage patients to more actively partner with their physicians when making decisions to improve their health.

“There’s avoidable suffering, and there’s unavoidable suffering,” Dr. Lee said. “Unavoidable suffering is driven by the patient’s disease and treatment. It includes the pain, side effects and fear of where the disease is going to go.”

But then, there’s “avoidable suffering, which has nothing to do with the patient’s treatment and everything to do with how we work together,” Dr. Lee said, stressing the importance of coordinating care and reducing patient confusion caused by poor communication.

“We have to put patients in the middle and organize around meeting their needs and reducing suffering. To do that, we need technical excellence and empathy. We have to be great at both,” Dr. Lee said. “You can’t have truly excellent care without empathy.”

Journal of the American Medical Association. January 2016.