Earlier this spring, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the National Forum on Patient Experience West. I heard amazing stories and ideas from across the country and the U.S. on advancing client- and family-centered care.
One such story that resonated with me was shared by April Kyle. April is from the South Central Foundation (SCF) in Alaska. In describing SCF’s Nuka System of Care, April used the analogy of trying to hit targets. In some industries (e.g., mechanical, manufacturing) hitting a target really just depends on throwing a rock accurately at the target. But for those of us who work in health care, we know that it’s messy; care delivery happens in in a human and complex adaptive environment, and as April points out, it’s more like throwing a bird at a target. That means we have to think about the attractor if we want to ensure success.
In medicine we have become really good at throwing birds at targets. Our downfall has been that we only focus on the throwing part, then wonder why our patients aren’t more engaged, or why we’re not improving health outcomes. How many times has a patient been told, “take this prescription and get it filled,” only to discover the medication is not covered by their drug plan and they simply can’t afford to take it? How often are stroke patients discharged from hospital with instructions to get therapy in their home community, only to discover once they are settled back home that the treatment they’ve been prescribed doesn’t exist in their rural area?
A light bulb went on for me as I listened to patients and providers speak at this year’s Quality Summit: Health care is all about relationships. It’s about caring for each other as people first. It’s about recognizing who our patients are — outside of the health care system. Because the reality is that health care takes place in a social, religious, and family context. Every day we are influenced by our values, our beliefs, and our habits.
If we really want to move forward and provide the best care possible we need to take time to understand what happens in the lives of our patients outside of our institutional or clinical walls.
South Central Foundation realized that, in order to provide great care, they needed to focus on relationships. In fact, this is so critical that they have made it their number one operating principle – that relationships between their customer-owner, family and provider must be fostered and supported. Relationships are the core clinical service that SCF offers: they actually train their staff on how to do this well because the ability to genuinely connect with people requires a particular skillset and ability.
When providers, patients, and families are in relationship, there is trust and accountability and there is honesty – and how can this not lead to better engagement and an improved patient experience?
So here’s my challenge to you: Saskatchewan Change Day was launched at this year’s Quality Summit. As part of this new social movement initiative, we were each encouraged to commit to take one action we feel can make a difference in our health care system.
Patients: What can YOU do to ensure that providers know what they need to know about you as a person when they are helping you make decisions about your treatment?
Providers: What small steps can YOU take in your busy daily practice to build stronger relationships with the people you serve?