Better patient-physician relationships can lead to better outcomes

By Aine Cryts

Putting the patient at the center of your practice can actually drive positive outcomes--even reducing emergency room visits by 65 percent, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article.

Higher spending on primary care--at a rate that's two to three times higher than the national average--has led to a 65 percent reduction in ER visits at Anchorage Alaska's Southcentral Foundation. The health system also invests in relationship-building skills training for its 1,700 employees. The hope is that staff members with closer relationships with patients can coach them on making better health decisions.

Focusing resources on "super utilizers" has made a difference for Camden (New Jersey) Coalition of Healthcare Providers. To help address the needs of frequently hospitalized patients, this city-wide coalition created a 90-day program that provides access to a care team including health coaches, licensed practical nurses, social workers and registered nurse clinical managers. Camden Coalition's team-based approach focuses on connecting patients--many of whom have multiple chronic conditions--to primary care and community resources.

Connecting personally with patients can be a challenge, especially for physicians who have to juggle many appointments during the day. Still, it's possible. Even though he was an hour late for a patient one time when he was a practicing physician, it was his ability to empathize with her that created loyalty, wrote James Merlino, M.D., Press Ganey's president and chief medical officer, in Physicians Practice. "It dawned on me, when this patient thanked me, my communication and empathy toward her had more of an effect on her than my tardiness. It fulfilled her need for reassurance, and perhaps lessened some of the anxiety she was feeling about her treatment."

Physicians who are able to empathize with patients are more likely to receive higher patient satisfaction scores and to achieve improved outcomes, as previously reported in FiercePracticeManagement.

To learn more:
- read the Harvard Business Review article
- read the Physicians Practice post

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