The health care environment is moving toward patient-centered care—but what does that really mean for practices?

Patient-centered care means incorporating patients’ perspectives, experiences and opinions into how you run your practice. Meaningful patient engagement can help achieve better quality, better outcomes and lower care costs. That’s why the AMA’s Improving Health Outcomes initiative launched its first Patient and Family Advisory Group, incorporating the breadth of experiences from five patients to enrich its work on evidence-based tools and resources for ambulatory settings to reduce the prevalence of uncontrolled hypertension.

The current advisory group members are demographically diverse, but all have one thing in common: A shared passion to improve health outcomes centered on the needs of patients and families. Each member of the group has experienced cardiovascular disease, either themselves or through a loved one, and has enlightening perspectives they are sharing with physicians and their care teams to improve care.

One Chicago-area physician has been using patients as advisors in his practice for nearly two decades. Mike Rakotz, MD, a family physician with Northwestern Medical Group in Evanston, Illinois and chronic disease prevention director at the AMA, said he’s made changes to his practice as the result of patient input.

“There is no way that one person, even if you live in the community you work in, can have the perspective of what the community feels it needs,” Dr. Rakotz said.

Through feedback from patient and family advisors, Dr. Rakotz found that patients waiting for appointments didn’t like the quiet waiting room and preferred to hear music. He learned that his patients valued seeing his staff work as a team. And he found that patients don’t want to feel rushed, but also don’t want to be at the physician’s office for too long.

“[A patient advisory group] is a time commitment for both patients, physicians and office staff,” Dr. Rakotz said. “But it is well worth the effort. … These days, with so much emphasis on patient-centeredness, what better way is there than to be proactive and gather a group of patients, get together with them periodically and ask them what they want from their doctor’s office that they aren’t getting, or that could be improved? You can’t get more patient-centered than that.”

An anonymous comment box may be a good first step toward patient engagement because it’s simple and cost-effective—something any physician can implement. To take patient-centered care to the next level, practices can set up a patient advisory group.

The AMA’s Patient and Family Advisory Group is working on tools and resources, to be made available to all practices later this year, for physicians and their care teams who want to implement their own advisory program. 

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