Simple interventions to aid understanding can help reduce anxiety and fear while improving the patient experience.
This is the lesson from the team at Marshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS), which has adopted two techniques to address “communication gaps” between patients and staff. Patient surveys and comments had been used to identify these gaps.
The Ask Me 3 and Teach-Back communication tools methods were chosen after consultation with staff, patients and families. These aim to help people to understand their diagnosis and treatment options, regardless of their level of health literacy.
Talking to the Beryl Institute’s case study team, Brandon Parkhurst, M.D., Adult Primary Care Service Line Medical Director at MCHS, explains: “Through that focus on explanation and understanding, I think we are seeing a reduction in the anxiety and fear patients would otherwise experience if they didn’t understand what was going on.”
He describes the techniques as “pretty standard solutions”, and says he believes this simplicity contributes to the success of the project.
“We get about 2000 comments every month via our experience surveys.” Those comments, he notes, offer a “wealth of information” about how patients perceive their current care and what they believe would be helpful to that care.
Three basic questions
The Ask Me 3 method ensures patients have the answers to three basic questions: “What is my problem?”; “What do I need to do about it?”; and “Why is doing this important to me?”
Teach Back involves clinicians asking patients what they understand from their consultation, to ensure the main points have been clearly explained.
The techniques are relatively easy to introduce as they are simple to learn and use in the clinic.
Dr Pankhurst says his other top tips include focus and collaboration. Previously, “conversations went well, but they inevitably ended in the same place. We were too wide in our goals to start with,” he points out, explaining that narrowing the focus to a few small changes had been transformational.
Experience projects ‘should be focused’
“We gained traction when we started to focus on explanations and understanding … and … tied that concept to health literacy, which just happened to resonate with the providers and staff in this organization.”
Patients and family members were also heavily involved in the process of finding and implementing the right communication tools for the job.
“The ultimate outcome we were looking to achieve really was a more collaborative relationship with our patients,” he declares. “When we talk about ‘patients’, it’s never just ‘the patient’. It’s always family members.”
With greater evidence of patient understanding, the team hopes to then be able to offer peer-to-peer mentoring and coaching, targeting providers initially, to help educate on the importance of patient explanation and understanding. “We see this as one of the keys to sustainability and continuous improvement.”
Overall, improving patient experience and health literacy is achieved through focusing on communications and “just being better partners with our patients”, concludes Dr. Pankhurst.
To read the full case study on the Beryl Institute’s website, click here.