Creating a healthcare system that is centered on the needs of patients and their families is a key to the kind of transformation that is needed in the United States. Patient-Centered Care is both very simple and very complex. Creating sustainable systems and processes that support Patient-Centered Care requires that healthcare organizations undertake radical culture transformation. Ours is a system that has historically been anything but patient-centered. Healthcare organizations big and small are organized around systems that support provider-centeredness and organizational-centeredness.
However, walk into any hospital, nursing home or physician’s office in this country and you will find amazing examples of Patient-Centered Care. Those examples show up when a nurse sits with a scared patient in the middle of the night holding his hand until he falls asleep, or when the phlebotomist remembers that you prefer to have blood drawn from your left arm rather than your right. These examples and more exist because while the healthcare system as a whole may be centered on organizational needs individuals enter healthcare professions not because of extrinsic motivations such as pay and status but because of more deeply rooted intrinsic motivations such as vocation and calling.
Creating Patient Centered organizations and transforming our healthcare system will require complex solutions. Yet each of us who works in healthcare can provide Patient-Centered Care every day. Her are a few simple ways that individuals can begin to transform healthcare without any policy changes, executive approval or legislation:
- Listen to patients and their family members and find out what they want and need.
- Ask patients to share their stories. Get to know them as individuals rather than as problems to be fixed.
- Include patients family and friends as much as possible in caring for the patient
- Teach patients and their families about their diagnosis, their treatment, the medicines they are taking and lifestyle choices that will help them live healthier.
- Take care of yourself. Meditate, exercise, eat healthfully and practice other positive forms of self-care so that you are grounded and centered when you engage with each patient. Stressed out and burned out caregivers, clinicians and providers can’t provide Patient-Centered Care.
Each one of us came into healthcare because we wanted to make a difference. Our healthcare system places all too many obstacles in front of us that prevent us from practicing Patient-Centered Care but those obstacles don’t have to stop us if we don’t allow them too.