Improving healthcare quality can be viewed on both a macro and a micro level, as something that will require sweeping, systemic change of the entire healthcare system and as something that individual physicians can practice for their patients.
For instance, the healthcare industry could dramatically improve healthcare quality by instituting greater transparency and requiring practitioners to use patient-centered EHRs that are readily accessible to all care providers and the patients themselves. By the same token, physicians can improve healthcare quality for their patients by following protocol to keep patients safe from infection, following-up more regularly, or connecting their patients to better resources.
We believe that primary care providers are actually best positioned to impact the quality of care at the source. When used correctly, primary care providers can act as the hub for patient-centered care. Primary care physicians tend to be more connected to their patients and better able to understand the individual patient’s needs and health journey.
Here are five steps primary care providers can take right now to improve quality healthcare for their patients:
1. Collect Data and Analyze Patient Outcomes.
If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it. The first step to improving the quality of care at your organization is to analyze your existing data to understand where opportunities exist. You should analyze both your patient population and your organizational operations to identify areas for improvement. Then, use this data to establish a baseline for patient outcomes. Ideally, the wealth of available data and IT-based systems ought to enable more patient-centered, connected care. While Electronic Health Records (EHRs) were supposed to fulfill this promise of more patient-centered care, in reality most focus on documentation, better billing, and increasing revenue. If your organization wants to improve quality healthcare this is the place to start: Be as rigorous about tracking patient wellness as you are about tracking billing. Use EHRs, outcomes studies, patient satisfaction surveys, and other data sources to closely monitor the health, outcomes, overall wellness, and costs for individual patients across the entire continuum of care.
2. Set Goals and Commit to Ongoing Evaluation.
Once you’ve analyzed your patient population data to understand their risk and studied your practice operations to identify areas for improvement, it’s time to prioritize those areas and set goals. If you need some help, there are several health organizations with established quality and consistency measures that could guide your goal-setting process. The Quality Payment Program, the National Quality Forum, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality all publish evidence-based guidelines and measures. Next, your organization must commit to ongoing evaluation. Improving quality healthcare isn’t a one-time, “set it and forget it” event—it’s an evolving process. The key to accelerating any quality improvement process is known as the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) cycle. First you plan a change, then you enact that change, then you observe and analyze the results, and, finally, you act on what you’ve learned. This model was developed by the Associates in Process Improvement and is a powerful tool for improving quality in clinical settings.
3. Improve Access to Care.
Having access to care is the single most important factor for improving quality healthcare and patient outcomes. Patients must have access to the right care at the right time in order to get the right results. Unfortunately, close to 15 percent of the population is still uninsured, which dramatically reduces these patients’ access to timely care, makes them go without preventive or primary care, and forces them to rely on higher cost (and, therefore, lower value) services. For example, research shows that underlying chronic diseases account for 75 percent of annual health spending in the United States, but Americans access preventive care at half the recommended rate. Of course, improving access to care doesn’t only refer to efforts to get patients to visit their primary care physician regularly or use preventive services such as early detection screenings. It can also mean improving how and where patients are able to access care. Many experts have argued that today’s health care system is far too fragmented to serve patients well—and that any efforts to connect, collaborate, and share information across organizations in order to make care more convenient for patients will also improve patient outcomes. The emerging trend toward onsite clinics and robust workplace wellness programs is one example of more convenient, accessible care. According to Deloitte’s recent report, The Future of Health 2040, the healthcare industry is on the “brink of a large-scale disruption” driven by greater connectivity, interoperable data, open platforms, and consumer-focused care. Primary care providers that are already innovating to provide more convenient and connected care for their patients will be ahead of this emerging trend.
4. Focus on Patient Engagement.
Patients can be the best advocates for their own health, but first they have to be engaged and taught to be proactive healthcare consumers. This is not an easy task, but it’s one that primary care providers are particularly well-prepared to undertake. Primary care physicians are better set up to see the patient’s entire healthcare journey than medical professionals who work at hospitals, specialist care centers, or urgent care facilities. You could say that primary care physicians are in a powerful position when it comes to overall quality of care. They are able to act as the glue that holds all the different aspects of care together and supports the patient through the entire care continuum. Patient engagement shouldn’t stop with the patient, however. For true engagement in healthcare, primary care providers should think more holistically and find effective ways to connect and encourage communication between families, physicians, other care providers, insurance providers, and social services throughout the patient’s entire healthcare journey.
5. Connect and Collaborate With Other Organizations.
Finally, healthcare organizations that truly want to improve their quality of care should regularly research and learn from other organizations—both in their own region and across the country. Go back to those areas for improvement you identified and goals that you set and look for other healthcare organizations that excel in those areas. To find these organizations, keep your ear to the ground about healthcare facilities that are experiencing success in a certain area, attend conferences, read the literature, and research online. Next, reach out to the organizations you’ve identified and find out what you can learn from them. Most organizations are happy to share to improve the lives of all patients. In addition to implementing changes at your own practice, you may find healthcare organizations you can partner with to improve patient outcomes. Patients today are less limited by geography and often benefit from opening up their care options for major procedures. Even for day-to-day care and routine procedures that you typically handle in-house, primary care providers are uniquely positioned to connect patients to additional services that will increase their success, proactively follow-up on care plans, engage patients across the continuum of care, and close the communication loop with other healthcare organizations. In other words, primary care providers are best able to take responsibility for individual patients both inside and outside the clinic walls.