Seeing Eye to Eye

Determining the definition value may require stepping out of your comfort zone.


 April 2015

In health care, we've been talking about value ad nauseam. That's how physicians are starting to get paid.

But the thing is, no one quite agrees on what value even is. Ask any stakeholder in the health care spectrum and you'll get a different answer. I wonder, however, if the greatest difference lies between a patient's answer and a physician's.
It's hard to place one's self in a patient's shoes. Even when physicians become patients themselves, they already have a sense of how things work in the medical field. When they receive their results, they'll know how to make sense of them or they can seek further advice from colleagues in other specialties.
Recently, I interviewed a patient and a radiologist. They were pretty much on the same page until I asked them both,, "What would patients like to see from radiologists?" Our radiologist answered that patients were looking for clear, quality images that would lead to better care. The patient's response surprised us both. "That's something we assume regardless of our experience," he said. He then went on to name things like being comfortable during imaging and being able to get quick results that he understands instead of dealing with myriad terms that he'd have to google later.
Another anecdote for you: a radiologist shared that he and his practice had put together a wealth of patient resources explaining certain imaging tests and possible results. They had put a lot of work into it, creating slideshows and images to make certain they were reaching out to their patients. When they asked a focus group of patients about the resources, the patients responded that the information was scary and the terminology unfamiliar. Despite their best intentions, the radiologists found that the resources raised more questions than they answered. They realized they didn't understand their patients' needs as well as they thought.
Uncomfortable patient experiences aren't just limited to imaging — they exist within the entire health care realm. I googled "lung cancer screening results" and checked out a couple of the top resources. Even the patient websites are full of terms like "carcinoid" and "squamous" and "adenocarcinoma." I imagine my mother, who is approaching 55 and has well over a 30-pack-year history, googling this on the advent of the screening my family will undoubtedly insist she receive. I imagine the panic that wells up in her because she can't even pronounce these words, let alone know if "small cell lung cancer" is a good thing or not because it's little. She'll be thinking of these unreadable words the entire time she's in the imaging suite, and even when she receives her results from some of the best radiologists in the area, she isn't going to understand them or know what to do. I imagine this, and I know that for my mother this is not a good patient experience. She'll receive a quality reading and diagnosis, but she'll look back on the screening with mixed feelings regardless of the outcome. This is a space where individual radiologists and their practices can make a difference by taking the time to talk to patients and ensuring they understand their results.

Placing ourselves in another's shoes is difficult enough. It's even harder when one has to strip away all the education and certainty that they use every day. What one party values might be taken for granted by other parties. What is scary for someone is normal for others. And while one person will never be able to completely understand another's experience, that shouldn't stop us from trying to see the patient experience through different eyes.

And Read This Too

Survey Says

In the Patient's Shoes

Value Defined

By Meghan Edwards, copywriter for the ACR Bulletin


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