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Are Consumers Ready for a Patient-Centric Healthcare?

June 12, 2014
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Lately, whenever I talk to health IT executives, consultants, or really anyone in the industry, there has been a growing theme when I ask them about the journey we’re all embarking on towards the new healthcare. That theme is the shift to a more patient-centric healthcare—one where the system revolves around the patients, who become active participants in their own care and receive services designed to focus on their individual needs and preferences, in addition to advice and counsel from health professionals.

In fact, I recently spoke to Judy McCarthy, chief technology officer at National Jewish Health, a Denver, Col.-based respiratory hospital about if organizations are actually starting to put the patient at the center of the healthcare system, or if it’s still all talk. McCarthy’s response further stressed the aforementioned point:

I think they’re trying to. A few years ago it would have been a really hard sell to any organization to say the patient owns the record. People thought that the patient won’t understand it and the physician will have to take calls and explain it, meaning work will never get done. That was a big concern about the patient portal and its data. But data has showed that is not necessarily true—patients want the information and while they might call to talk about it, they also might save that conversation for the next visit. They do want it though, and patients are becoming more involved in their care by their own choice. That has opened the door to make healthcare more patient-centric.

McCarthy went on to say that the best requirement that is out there in the meaningful use program is all about patient engagement and making the data patient-centric so the patient owns the data. Certainly, the future of U.S. healthcare lies in the patient-centric care model, but questions do remain. For one, Are providers ready for this cultural change, as they have been long used to a disease-centered model, where physicians make almost all treatment decisions based largely on clinical experience and data from various medical tests? But another question that doesn’t get as frequently asked is if the patients are ready to be at the center of their own care. And a follow-up concern that I often hear is, Do they understand their medical data and what’s being done with it?

Apparently, they may have a greater understanding than many might have thought. A recent survey from Vermont Information Technology Leaders (VITL), the state’s exclusive health information exchange (HIE), found that 86 percent of state residents responding to the survey had heard a lot or heard some about electronic health records (EHRs).  Additionally, 77 percent showed a high awareness of the state’s HIE, and 83 percent of residents also were very comfortable or somewhat comfortable with their healthcare provider storing their health information electronically. “The results from the survey are very encouraging and healthcare consumers clearly understand the benefits of health information technology and in particular the benefits of sharing of patient health information through the HIE,” John K. Evans, VITL president and CEO, said in a statement that accompanied the survey.

Undoubtedly, patients have more information today about their diseases and treatment options than ever before. But patients have not had tools to help them decide among these various options, and doctors have not had tools to help gauge how acceptable an option might be to a specific patient. As a result, the medical decision made, in hindsight, may not have been the most suitable one.

Today, however, patients have a greater understanding of their care in addition to a plethora of tools available for both providers and consumers. Though the concept of patient-centered care developed before healthcare reform, the game has now changed as we enter a world of fee-for-value and population health.

And to be clear, I do understand that there is a healthcare literacy problem with many patients across the country. But on this journey towards the new healthcare, I’m confident that if we put the patients at the center of their care, they will be more educated and engaged moving forward. As Judy McCarthy said above, patients want the information. They are ready…and willing…and able.  

So my message to all healthcare leaders is that I think the time has come to embrace the shift to a patient-centered healthcare. Sure, there are concerns, but let the patients play their role actively. And for all the patients, ready or not, this transformational change is coming. (And for the record, I do think you’re ready).

Please feel free to respond in the comment section below or on Twitter at @RajivLeventhal