The importance of being treated as a unique individual and being an advocate for your own health

Patients who are treated by their physicians as unique individuals and not as a category of diseases experience their healthcare journey in a more positive light. However, organizations are struggling to deliver such personalized patient experiences.

During a December Becker's Hospital Review podcast sponsored by NRC Health, Cheryl Marker, owner and illustrator at Dear Chronic Pain, and Evan Sheaff, associate vice president of customer strategy at NRC Health, discussed effective approaches to making care delivery more patient-focused and what both patients and physicians can do to accomplish that goal.

Three key insights were:

  1. Considering patients' individual needs and preferences impacts their overall experience. Patients with complex health conditions sometimes exhibit symptoms that are frequent in common diagnoses, such as chronic migraine. In such cases, some physicians are quick to confer the more common diagnosis rather than investigate the root causes of the individual patient's symptoms. That approach can not only delay arriving at a correct diagnosis and starting appropriate treatment, but can also leave the patient with a negative impression about their experience.

    Ms. Marker, who for years suffered from constant headaches that turned out to be associated with a mix of chronic conditions, experienced such undifferentiated treatment. "What that looked like to me was that this provider offers the same advice and treatment to every patient that experienced headaches lasting over two weeks, without considering individual needs or conditions," she said. "I felt like there was no medical curiosity to dive any deeper into my case."

    When she eventually met a physician who took the time to understand her personal health history and involved her in the treatment plan, she felt like she had "hit the jackpot." "It has been the most pleasant experience I've had as a patient. It restored my faith in the healthcare system."

  2. For patients, self-advocacy is a key to steering physicians to see them as individuals. By learning to advocate for themselves, patients can reduce the likelihood of being lumped into a category rather than being treated as an individual. Some things that patients can do to equip themselves with the confidence to advocate for themselves include keeping a symptom journal, joining peer support groups and speaking up about their needs.
    "It's important to remember that you are the expert on your own body," Ms. Marker said. "So, if something doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to voice your concerns and fight for answers because you know your body best."

  3. Physicians that care about providing individualized experiences to patients should do these three things. NRC Health conducted user experience research to help its partnering healthcare organizations understand how they can improve the patient experience. Mr. Sheaff said three key themes emerged in the course of that research that can serve as guidelines for physicians: Connect with me. Listen to me. Partner with me.

"If we can do those three things in the interaction between me the patient and you the provider, we can fundamentally change the way that we deliver care." 

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