Standardization is great: It can help to improve physician efficiency, enhance the safety of care and accuracy of medicine dispensing, and aid your organization or facility in maximizing its use of time, space and funds. You know, that small stuff. And that’s exactly why the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are reforming rules for providers, standardizing everything from electronic health records (EHR) and data collection to quality scoring and performance-based payment. The benefits are many in a healthcare system that can often feel disjointed — particularly from the patient’s perspective.
However, “standardization” should be implemented in such a way that you are striving for a standard of care, not so that patients are subject to a one-size-fits all style of care. Each patient has unique health characteristics, a different experience with the healthcare system, a multi-faceted background — all of which gives rise to the phenomenon of heterogeneity or, in this context, individual patient reactions. Pushing for a standardized treatment — in terms of either the flow of the care pathway or the medications and devices dispensed — for every patient could lead to poor outcomes for patient, which is the diametric opposite of what standardization is meant to achieve.
Of course, you can’t create a new care pathway for every patient who walks through the door; that would cause untold difficulties and wastes of valuable resources. Instead, the ideal system should marry standardization and personalization, providing a high standard of reliable care that allows for accommodation of the variability inherent in patients. Here are three keys to achieving that ideal.
1. Use technology to keep patients involved
“Smartphone internet use is poised to overtake desktop internet use in the world because developing countries and lower income groups find it easier and cheaper to get a smartphone than a traditional computer,” writes James Dias, and this is going to have critical bearing on the way patients come into and interact with your practice. You can achieve better patient engagement by making the most of this technology — for example, mobile apps that let patients access their data and records, and online booking so they can make an appointment when it’s convenient in their hectic schedules. These steps don’t require you to give up your well-planned scheduling blocks or control of data, they merely help accommodate patients. It shows you’re flexible to and caring about their needs, which creates an impression of quality service before the face-to-face patient contact occurs.
2. Keep them engaged in decision-making
Within any standardized care plan, there are still variables that influence what it will actually look like. Create tick boxes that let the patient express his or her preferences where there are decisions to be made, such as “general or regional anesthesia, preferred pain management techniques, discharge planning and choices for post-acute care providers,” which are all key opportunities for interaction during the patient journey that “could add value to the process.”
3. Give them full interaction and attention (e.g. by using scribes for real-time documentation)
The act that underpins patient engagement and accommodation is paying attention to the patient during face-to-face contact. It should be as standard as other aspects of standardization — and taken as seriously as CMS reforms. Instead of being face-down, typing into the EHR as the patient talks, employ scribes to let physicians make the experience personalized for each patient. While the scribe records the medical details in the appropriate EHR place, thoroughly and in real time, the physician is able to extract all the relevant information by interacting with the patient. Not only does this result in a better basis for medical decisions, but the patient comes away feeling he’s received personalized service — and that’s vitally important to raising the standard.