Standardized Care vs. Personalization: Can They Coexist?

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Mention the word “standardization” to a group of healthcare professionals, and you may start a debate. Healthcare’s perception of standardization varies significantly by industry role. While administrators view standardized care as a way to achieve efficiency and high-quality patient care, physicians have historically viewed standardization as an administrative mandate that goes against their interests and their patients’ interests.

This fragmented perception of standardized care is changing, however, as value-based care takes root throughout the industry. Administrators and physicians are beginning to realize they need to work together to improve the quality of care and reduce costs, and understand how standardization and personalization—often considered mutually exclusive—can actually complement each other.

The Case for Standardized Care

Critics of standardized care call it “cookie-cutter medicine;” advocates say it’s how the industry uses evidence-based medicine in a systematic way to ensure patients receive high-quality care. Studies show that variation in care (and corresponding differences in costs and outcomes) exists across hospitals, states, and regions.

But physicians don’t need studies to understand that care-delivery practices differ from place to place; regionalized care is a healthcare system reality. Standardizing best practices is an important part of delivering effective, safe, and affordable care, and has numerous benefits:

  • Consistent outcomes
  • Labor savings
  • Reduced waste
  • Improved efficiency
  • Improved patient safety
  • Reduced costs

The Case for Personalization

Advocates of personalization don’t want to see a standardized, one-size-fits-all approach to treating patients become the norm. Patients embrace the idyllic concept of a local family doctor who knows everyone in their family, understands each family member’s health concerns, and responds to everyone individually. Ideally, healthcare should work this way, with physicians who know their patients well and treat them as unique individuals.

Personalization improves the patient experience and increases patient engagement. In today’s healthcare environment, in which patients’ ownership of their health and outcomes is increasingly essential, physicians need to personalize care and motivate patients to become active participants in their health journeys.

Standardized Care and Personalization Working Together to Improve Quality

Standardized care and personalization are not mutually exclusive. In fact, standardization can enhance personalization by eliminating unnecessary work for physicians and giving them more time to spend with patients. It can also eliminate unnecessary expenses and complications resulting from not adhering to best practices.

Physicians make treatment decisions based on their unique clinical experiences. Standardization compensates for this variation in experience and reveals the outcomes specific treatments have delivered to thousands—if not millions—of patients.

Patients would rather hear from their physicians, “I’ve treated 100 people with the same condition, and these were the outcomes” than, “this is the first time I’ve seen this condition; let’s try X, Y, and Z and see what works.” Standardization supplements physician experience and reduces guesswork; it is the foundation upon which physicians and care teams personalize patient care.

Bridging the Standardization-Personalization Gap with Data

With data as the common denominator, healthcare can get to a place where standardized care and personalization meet—the best of both worlds. In an industry where meaningful, real-time analytics are increasingly available, physicians can collect outcomes data from local, regional, national, and global sources, and use it to personalize care plans for their patients. Standardizing care and measuring outcomes enable physicians to create customized treatment plans for patients that take a variety of factors into account, such as outcomes for similar patients.

Physicians can sit down with patients and say with confidence, “this medicine decreases the risk of heart attack among women with similar health profiles by 5 percent; is it worth it to you to spend the money and effort to take the pill every day and deal with the potential side effects?” Healthcare data, combined with the ability to assess outcomes of similar patients, gives both physicians and patients the right tools for informed discussion and decision-making. Combining standardized practices with personalized treatment plans increases patient engagement by making patients the focal point of the decision-making process.

Making the Connection between Standardization and Personalized Care at Cincinnati Children’s

Operational efficiency is a top priority at Cincinnati Children’s, which processes 33,000 inpatients, one million outpatients, and 31,000 surgical cases. Dr. Ryckman, Cincinnati Children’s Senior Vice President of Medical Operations, and his team used standardization and daily analytics to decrease hospital-acquired infections by over 50% and save $50 million over two years. According to Dr. Ryckman, “the most important thing we can do to drive down costs in medicine is to eliminate unnecessary work for providers and unnecessary expenses from not following known best practices.”

But standardized care is just part of the equation at Cincinnati Children’s. Dr. Ryckman believes standardization is an individual art, and that personalization is equally important. Dr. Ryckman realized that delivering great post-operative care to his transplant patients could be compromised if he didn’t improve everything (bed use, availability, nurse staffing, and teamwork) needed for greater efficiency and care delivery: “I realized that by working on these things, as well as my personal practice, I could positively influence the care of many more than just my patients. I transitioned my thinking from one person taking care of one person, to building systems of care to improve the care of many.” Dr. Ryckman and his team understand the connection between standardization and personalized care, great outcomes, and positive patient and family experiences.

Health systems—like Cincinnati Children’s—willing to embrace and implement both standardized and personalized care are in a unique position to revolutionize the way healthcare is delivered. Using data to bridge the gaps, health systems can lay the foundation with standardization and build a patient-centric healthcare delivery system using personalization.


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