Give a Man a Fish…
I’m sure you know how it goes: “Give a Man a Fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Interestingly enough, the exact origin of the old adage is debated. Regardless of whether it was Anne Ritchie, Loa Tzu, or Confucius, the wisdom within the phrase is still valuable today and is embedded in today’s topic.
Knowledge is highly valued in today’s information-overloaded society. Long gone are the days of medical paternalism when patients had blind-faith in the advice of their physicians. With resources available at our fingertips, the modern-day patient is constantly researching, asks pertinent questions, and often seeks multiple opinions.
Throw in a global pandemic, and this mode of operation can easily produce fear, skepticism, paranoia, and distrust. I recently read a billboard on the side of the interstate that said, “Going to the doctor is smart and responsible.” It’s clearly combating a climate of distrust and fear growing among patients today.
One way to create trust between you and your patients is to embrace today’s knowledge-is-power-culture, and to equip them with their own health data. Most patients want to take ownership of their health, and they desire to play a pivotal role in their healthcare. Opposition to accessing personal health data is perceived as a lack of transparency from the patient perspective, and breeds distrust between the patient and the provider. Now more than ever, patients need their physicians to help them access their personal health data and to use it in ways that will result in an optimal health outcome.
Not a New Imperative:
Patients’ need for accessing their health data conveniently and securely is not a new imperative within healthcare, but the pandemic has certainly brought it to the forefront. “Healthcare systems were already facing substantial difficulties in exchanging data at the micro-and macro-level: from devices to departments, from department to department, from hospital to hospital and even into patient homes. Those challenges have manifested in an inability to track longitudinal patient data and exchange information across different vendors,” according to an article published by Philips. (1)
Furthermore, the cost of that disorganization and miscommunication regarding patient records is devastating. According to the same article, “In 2019 alone, 510 healthcare data breaches were reported – a 196% increase from 2018 – exposing 41.3 million patient records. Those breaches, which in the past decade have affected up to 90% of health systems, have an average cost of $3.86 million each.” (1) That’s just the financial impact. The inability to transfer data efficiently and securely also has damaging consequences on the patient’s quality of healthcare.
Historically speaking, transferring patient health data efficiently has not been a strength of the healthcare system. Fortunately, as mentioned in our last blog, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized rules earlier this year that prioritize both healthcare data interoperability and security.
You Play the Central Role
Your patients need you to teach them how to fish. Metaphorically speaking, that is. In a blog published by Health Affairs, authors write, “We believed then, and still do, that providers must play the central role in educating and encouraging consumers to access their data…” Furthermore, “Studies have shown that 63 percent of patients who viewed their medical records were encouraged to do so by their providers. Only 38 percent of patients took the initiative on their own, according to the same study.” (2) If you want to combat the growing skepticism and paranoia around visiting the doctor’s office, encourage your patients to take interest in their health records and educate them on how to access their records; furthermore, do so in a convenient, intelligible manner.
Almost every time my son with Cerebral Palsy has an appointment with one of his doctors, I try to take another set of ears with me. I learned this the hard way early on in his healthcare journey. I would often walk out of an appointment with his neurologist and forget almost everything he told me, much less be able to articulate it all to my husband. I started taking notes, researching any unknown terminology, and taking another adult with me to help listen. Within the past couple years, his healthcare facility started equipping their patients with secure online portals. I now have convenient access to all of his information, including a review of appointments and any follow-up instructions. Having that kind of information, that knowledge, available at my fingertips is absolutely invaluable. It enables me to take ownership in my son’s healthcare and to make better, more accurately-informed decisions regarding his healthcare plan. Furthermore, it validates my trust in those doctors. Their full transparency communicates that they want the best healthcare outcome for my son.
Earlier I highlighted some of the financial disadvantages to siloed health data and disorganization, but I would like to also highlight some of the advantages to educating your patients on their personal health data. Author Ripken Shah lists them In his article, “5 Advanced Patient Education Strategies for 2020”: (3)
- Patient participation in recovery
- Error identification
- Reduced length in hospital stays
- Increased patient safety
- Higher quality of clinician-patient communication
- Engaging patient cooperation
- Lower rates of readmission
- Lower mortality rates
I’d like to leave you with a quote from the previously mentioned Health Affairs blog: “Virtually every other industry has adopted technology more widely and successfully than health care, largely because it makes sense from a business perspective. If health care incentives depended upon better health outcomes, care providers and the infrastructure that supports them would have to figure out ways to share data, not only among providers, but with consumers, who play a critical role in shaping and maintaining their own health.” (2) If the patient’s (aka: consumer’s) optimal health outcome is truly the goal, healthcare providers should encourage their patients to access and take involvement in their personal health data. Equipping and educating your patients on how to do so will create an environment of trust and empowerment.
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Jerry L. Stone