Viewpoint: Retail health lacks the personal connections patients need

Retail healthcare is impersonal and does not reflect what patients really want, argues Timothy J. Hoff, PhD, professor of management, healthcare systems and health policy at Northeastern University in Boston, in a STAT op-ed.

When receiving retail healthcare services, "the providers I see during these interactions know nothing about me, offer little tailored advice, and the services they provide will be both limited and standardized in how they are delivered," Dr. Hoff wrote.

"Being viewed through the retail lens also means that I am asked to consume other offerings pitched to me by whoever provides me with healthcare, be it my insurance company or my employer," Dr. Hoff wrote.

Dr. Hoff interviewed 80 patients and physicians in a book on the physician-patient relationship in the era of efficiency-driven innovation, corporate care and retail medicine. 

Patients told Dr. Hoff they find the impersonal nature of retail frustrating and have lowered expectations about the levels of emotional support and customized help they can get from physicians and others in the healthcare system. Dr. Hoff also found physicians' responses mirrored patients' in this respect.

"What these individuals wanted most in healthcare was something human and more intimate, maintained through regular one-on-one interactions with experts they knew and trusted who were compassionate, empathetic, friendly and respectful," Dr. Hoff wrote.

Dr. Hoff notes research that supports four practices for providers to incorporate into care practices.

1. Care continuity through a solid physician-patient relationship can improve healthcare quality and patient satisfaction. 

2. Physician-patient trust, established through extended interpersonal contact, can help patients become more engaged in their care.

3. Extended dialogue between patient and physician can positively affect health outcomes in areas from blood pressure to mental health. 

4. Physician empathy is linked to more accurate diagnoses, better health outcomes and enhanced patient experience.

More articles on patient engagement:
Younger physicians linked to more patient complaints than older colleagues
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U of Missouri health policy experts: Make health information easy for patients to understand

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