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Extending Time With Patients: No Time Travel Needed

Friday, February 01, 2019
by Geri Lynn Baumblatt and Hannah Herrington
Hannah’s Story
At age 12, I was diagnosed with a chronic condition, and with a second one 11 years later. I’m not unique. According to a 2017 RAND study, 60% of Americans had at least one chronic condition, and 42% had multiple. With decades of patient experience under my belt, I recently had a bump in my health journey. My medications stopped working and I developed new symptoms. I’ve had flares in the past, including 5 surgeries, but this time was different. Now I work full time, I’m married, and mom to a toddler. Flaring this time meant missing work, hospitalization, weekly appointments, guilt and depression.
What struck me most was how there wasn’t time to discuss these life stressors with my doctors. It was important for them to know how my life was being impacted, and how my life may be impacting my illnesses. It was also important that my multiple specialists understood each others’ recommendations and treatment plans - and that I get connected with resources.
While clinicians want to be collaborative,15 minutes makes it difficult. People need to feel they trust their clinician, but they often need resources beyond the encounter, too.
Help patients prepare for their visit.
Be specific! Beyond current symptoms and medications, help patients prioritize questions or concerns that may be outside the traditional conversation about their illness. For example, could your office send a few questions for people to fill out in advance? These could be personal, life-related questions that can be uncomfortable to bring up or answer off the cuff when face to face. How is your health affecting your work? ...hobbies? ...relationships? And vice versa? This way, you can hone in on important topics that can really impact their life, wellbeing, and their ability to follow a new treatment plan.
Then, extend your time and reach.
Most people can benefit from resources or community health connections. But this takes time and often some research.

This is when you can lean on health educators and health education specialists. Separate from RNs and clinical staff, who have set duties in a practice, health educators are trained to focus on how people can best understand what’s needed to care for their condition(s), incorporating learning theories and health literacy best practices. With backgrounds in public health and education, they can help bridge the gap by providing what you’d like to be able to give to your patients (resources and a confirmed understanding of conditions and care).
  • In a health system, ask about the availability of health educators to support you.
  • In a private practice, when thinking about new roles, consider a health educator or those with a public health background when creating job descriptions.
We’re all working towards more positive provider-patient relationships. It’s challenging, for both sides, to keep a firm grip on all the details while still trying to stay hopeful. Continuing to work together and continuing to better understand each other's perspectives will help create a path to get us there.

Hannah Herrington has a Master in Public Health, concentrating in Behavioral Science and Education. She is Certified in Public Health and is a Certified Health Education Specialist. As a patient, advocate, and educator, she is working to empower patients and HCPs to work together to successfully navigate the complexities of chronic conditions.

Geri Lynn Baumblatt MA, For the last 20 years, Geri has worked to help people understand health conditions and procedures, orient them to their diagnoses, make more informed decisions about their care, and partner with their care teams.  She oversaw the creation of the Emmi program library, and she regularly speaks and serves on patient engagement, patient experience, health literacy, shared decision making, health design, family caregiving, and heath communication panels for organizations like AHRQ, the Brookings Institute, Stanford Medicine X, and the Center for Plain Language. She serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Patient Experience, is on the board of the Society for Participatory Medicine, and published a chapter in Transformative Healthcare Practice through Patient Engagement (IGI Global). She currently consults on patient engagement, family caregiving, and health communication. Follow her on Twitter @GeriLynn

Tags: patient engagement, communication, doctor's appointment, engagement, experience
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