In the COVID-19 era, decision makers face a variety of new priorities, including scaling virtual care solutions overnight, recovering billions of dollars in lost revenue, overcoming overcrowded ICUs, and managing personnel safety with insufficient personal protective equipment. With so many pressing issues vying for leadership’s attention, patient-centered care can seem like a low-level priority. However, treating a complex virus like COVID-19 underscores the necessity to keep patients at the center of care delivery.
Patient-centered care—personalized medicine that includes the patient as part of the care team and tailors care to unique needs, values, and preferences—can be challenging in healthcare’s new normal. The pandemic has made delivering patient-centered care even more difficult with halted routine care and a change from traditional in-person visits to virtual. However, patient-centered care has never been more critical; it requires providers and care teams to adapt care plans and interventions to the pandemic’s impact on individual patients, especially those at higher risk due to age or chronic diseases.
In spite of what has felt like overnight changes to healthcare delivery with the onset of COVID-19, hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare organizations can focus patient-centered care by applying three strategies:
Health systems recognize the increasing importance of patient satisfaction as patients become more involved in their care. Health systems and other healthcare organizations use patient satisfaction scores as an indicator of the patient experience and quality of care. While the patient experience is important for CMS reimbursements, it is also critical to patient-centered care because the level of satisfaction reveals a patient’s expectations of care, how well the health system meets those expectations, and the patient’s level of engagement in their care.
Understanding patient satisfaction scores (typically survey-based) provides visibility into the healthcare experience from the patient’s viewpoint, including the communication between the care team, effectiveness of care interventions, and how the provider treated the patient. This information helps health systems target and improve areas in which patients feel less satisfied with their care, resulting in elevated patient-centered care and higher patient satisfaction scores that, in turn, increase reimbursements.
To ensure that patients remain at the center of care throughout the shift to value-based care from fee for service, CMS enacted clinical quality measures. The CMS Meaningful Measures Initiative (and Meaningful Measures 2.0 aimed at focusing the entire healthcare ecosystem around patients even more) serves as a barometer for improving care delivery and prioritizing patients throughout the entire care process. The CMS Meaningful Measures framework puts patients at the center of CMS strategic goals (a requirement for all health systems to qualify for reimbursement) and identifies high-priority, high-impact areas for improvement.
The Meaningful Measures Initiative further keeps patients at the center of care by decreasing the reporting burden on providers. By streamlining the approach to regulatory reporting and eliminating duplicate measures, providers spend less time in the EHR and more time with patients. Patient data, combined with analytics tools, also play a role in easing the reporting burden so that providers can focus on patient needs. With effective data mechanisms, care teams can more easily identify gaps in care and track trends instead of manually sifting through data to find variations in care delivery or patient outcomes. This data not only keeps patients at the center of care, but it allows providers to better understand their performance around the Meaningful Measures Initiative aimed at prioritizing patients in every aspect of care delivery.
Patient-centered care means taking care to patients, even if it means virtual care delivery. Health systems can leverage technology to ensure patient access, even when hospitals close all non-essential surgeries and regular checkups. Virtual care solutions are a win-win for health systems and patients; patients can access care from anywhere and health systems can still monitor patients—especially those vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or comorbidities.
With the right tools, health systems can scale virtual solutions in such a small window to meet patients where they are, a critical aspect of patient-centered care. The Financial Impact Recovery Tool and Patient Stratification Tool, for example, enable healthcare organizations to overcome obstacles to delivering telehealth (e.g., infrastructure, licensing, and provider buy-in), a practical solution when routine care—a principle of patient-centered care—is on hold.
Health systems can deliver patient-centered care in any landscape—from a pandemic to value-based care—with effective patient-focused strategies. Delivering patient-centered care is paramount during a pandemic when routine healthcare looks different than ever before and nobody knows what the next normal will look like. Identifying patient-centered tactics—improving patient satisfaction, meeting CMS measures, and delivering virtual care—health systems can avoid becoming all-consumed with competing priorities and keep patients at the center of care. Proactively prioritizing patients allows health systems to tackle health problems before it’s too late, ensuring every patient reaches, and maintains, optimum health.
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