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Patient Relationships in the Shift to Team-Based Care

Investigators have long studied and validated the impact of an effective patient-primary care provider relationship, most notably the correlation between such relationships and improved patient outcomes. However, they also reduce acute care utilization, as patients are less likely to choose the emergency room when a strong relationship with their primary care provider exists. It is not surprising, then, that by promoting relationship building at the patient-level, favorable costs and outcomes often follow.

Moreover, doctors also ascribe great value to these relationships. According to family medicine and health systems expert Kurt Stange, relationships are “the antidote to an increasingly fragmented and depersonalized health care system.”

But, as healthcare increasingly emphasizes the importance of team-based care in meeting the needs of patients, how can the primary care team be optimized to support strong relationship?

Consider avoidable ED utilization: If the goal is for patients to think of primary care as their ‘go to’ for care, that is dependent upon a strong relationship with their primary care team. Ideally, this relationship would be strongest with the primary care provider; however, as team-based care increases, sometimes the relationship is strongest with other team members, often the Care Manager. There is great opportunity, then, to look at and optimize the patient-Care Manager relationship in our efforts to improve patient experience, health outcomes, and appropriate care utilization.

This optimization applies to many of the best practices thought to promote positive patient-primary care relationships, such as (Heath, 2020):

  • Preparing for each clinical encounter
  • Active listening
  • Emphasizing patient priorities
  • Connecting to the patient story
  • Displaying empathy and validating emotions

Not only are Care Managers uniquely equipped to engage in these practices themselves within their own relationships with patients, but they are also uniquely positioned to promote them in the patient-provider relationship as well. 

But, as with all elements of care delivery and/or payment, it is important to have data-informed knowledge of the value of Care Management to ensure support across models. And as we think about the impacts of patient relationships, areas of measure to consider include:

  • Avoidable emergency department and hospital utilization
  • Quality measure trends in population in Care Management
  • Care Management contacts (to provide insight into how the Care Management team impacts the data)
  • Patient experience

So, as we push for greater team-based care, we must consider how such a model can positively influence patient relationships. In doing so, healthcare must support the integration of care teams, encourage consistent messaging to patients about those care teams, and ensure those in Care Management roles are equipped and confident in their ability to develop meaningful relationships with the people they serve.

Ready to optimize your team-based care or care management services?

HealthTeamWorks offers a range of services intended to help support care management, from providing essential and intermediate trainings and leadership-focused coaching to technical assistance and infrastructure support. For more information on how our team can help you, email us at solutions@healthteamworks.org.

References

Heath, S. (2020). Good Patient-Provider Relationship Proves to Boost Outcomes. Available at https://patientengagementhit.com/news/good-patient-provider-relationship-proves-to-boost-outcomes

Sullivan, E. & Ellner, A. (2015). Strong Patient-Provider Relationships Drive Healthier Outcomes. Harvard Business Review. Available at https://hbr.org/2015/10/strong-patient-provider-relationships-drive-healthier-outcomes