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The discovery of what true ‘patient-centered’ care is

Free Press Article- July 24, 2013 April L. Schulte-Barclay

Recently, a colleague (who happens to be a dear friend of mine) and I attended an integrative medicine conference in Estes Park. The trip was magical in its own ways, including the chance to follow a rainbow, for our chance at a pot of gold, that we saw reach the ground in front of us. While we were unable to find that pot of gold, we did find several pearls of clinical wisdom that were presented at the conference. One of those pearls inspired a light bulb moment that I expect will adjust my clinical approach with patients in a powerful way.

At Healing Horizons we pride ourselves in providing patient-centered health care for our patients. The phrase “patient-centered” sounds good, but what does it mean if you are a patient seeking health services? And how do you know that a medical clinic that advertises patient-centered care is actually providing such care?

At the very center of this concept is recognizing each individual patient’s values when it comes to health. Values vary widely from patient to patient and include factors such as cultural, religious, spiritual, personal preferences, family dynamic, etc. Patient-centered care also means actively engaging patients as decision makers in their treatment plans so they feel empowered and hopeful that they can make a change in achieving their health goals.

The light bulb moment I had was that a diagnosis and associated test results and numbers may be what practitioners value, but not what patients value. Many patients do not value what a diagnosis means clinically. Patients value what maintaining health or resolving a health concern will mean to ensure they get to optimize what they enjoy in their lives. This realization allows me, as a practitioner and clinic director, to expand my thinking as to what it means to provide patient-centered health care services.

Let’s consider a patient comes to our clinic with chief complaints of fatigue, foggy thinking, weight gain and insomnia. During the intake of the patient’s health history, it is revealed the patient has a recent diagnosis of Type II diabetes. Many health care practitioners, including myself, would like to help alleviate the patient’s symptoms but would also be interested in knowing the patient’s trend of fasting blood glucose levels and A1C numbers.

While the patient may prefer to have those numbers in a “normal” range, what the patient will really care about is what feeling better would mean to his or her quality of life. For example, the patient may report that feeling better may enable the ability to resume a favorite activity, such as hiking or playing with grandchildren. Focusing on a more tangible goal than results of a blood test, will likely engage the patient to be involved within creating his or her health plan. With such goals in mind, a treatment plan can be mapped out between patient and practitioner(s) for the patient to follow in a way that is more meaningful for the patient.

When an approach is made to improve one’s quality of life by optimizing physical, emotional and spiritual health, the sky is the limit to what is possible in our lives. When a patient’s team of health care professionals work together with the patient to achieve the patient’s goals, the sky’s limits are endless.