Improving patient outcomes means thinking beyond numbers on a chart. It means considering the bigger picture of what’s important to patients. Improving patients’ results has implications that extend to the community — and even to a hospital’s or practice’s bottom line.
For example, health care professionals typically monitor hemoglobin A1C levels when they treat a patient’s diabetes. These numbers are important, but so is how a certain A1C level affects a patient’s overall well-being and quality of life. How then do medical professionals focus on all aspects of health care to improve patient outcomes?
Leaders in the field are considering the topic as they work to improve individuals’ health, enhance patient satisfaction and meet insurance standards of care. Health care professionals examine the issue of patient outcomes in leadership programs, such as the Executive Master of Health Administration program from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
How to Improve Patient Outcomes
Improving patient outcomes calls for a team approach. Team members typically include the following:
- Decision-makers for the hospital or medical practice
- Advocates for the health care facility
- Team leaders
- Team members who guide improvements
Consider these seven key actions aimed at improving patient outcomes:
1. Reduce Medical Errors and Improve Patient Safety
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that adverse health outcomes resulting from unsafe care is one of the 10 leading causes of death worldwide. Medication errors, infections and diagnostic mistakes are among the issues that can jeopardize patient safety. Help reduce the rate of errors by:
- Following uniform safety procedures
- Coordinating efforts among care providers and pharmacists
- Diagnosing health concerns as carefully and quickly as possible
- Enhancing compatibility of health records
2. Offer Telehealth and Other Technologies
Telehealth options and electronic tools can make it easier for patients to access care services and health records. When people can use their computers or smartphones to get details and information or to communicate with their health care team, they can more easily navigate the health care system to get the care they need.
3. Manage Chronic Diseases
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that chronic diseases — such as heart disease and cancer — are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. In fact, 40% of adults have more than one chronic disease. Help patients manage these conditions by providing them with easy access to resources, positive reinforcement and regular follow-ups.
4. Ensure Continuity of Care and Discharge Procedures
To help maintain high-quality care, coordinate treatment plans with a patient’s other providers. When discharging hospital patients, create clear summary reports that help all providers stay consistent in providing care.
5. Communicate with Patients and Educate Them About Their Health
Help patients understand their health conditions and care plans. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) describes some communication approaches:
- Teach-back. Ask patients to reiterate what you’ve shared.
- Warm handoff. Share information about diagnoses and treatments alongside the patient.
- Medication review. Discuss the complete list of medications the patient is taking.
6. Create Opportunities for Staff Support and Development
Encourage positive patient outcomes by giving health care providers opportunities to develop as professionals. The opportunities can range from training about the latest trends to the tools they need to perform effectively.
7. Analyze Data
Determine where your hospital or other health care facility has room to grow by evaluating data. Analyze information about the patient population and operational procedures — and use those details to set a baseline for patient outcomes. Electronic health records (EHRs) and patient satisfaction surveys are examples of ways to track outcomes and costs.
Importance of Patient Outcomes
Improved patient outcomes go hand-in-hand with quality of care, operational efficiencies, patient satisfaction and positive relationships with insurers. Here’s how those factors play a role in ensuring that all patients receive better care.
Quality of Care
Did a patient have timely access to care? Did a patient have a good experience? Did a patient have to be readmitted to the hospital? These questions and more represent ways health systems track quality of care — and the answers play a role in patient outcomes. The following are among the measures of quality of care:
- Safety — avoiding preventable injuries and medical mistakes
- Readmissions — following hospital best practices to help ensure that a patient with heart failure, for example, doesn’t have to be readmitted to the hospital following surgery
- Effectiveness — achieving desired outcomes, such as a properly functioning heart, in the example of our heart patient; using scientific knowledge and evidence-based practices
- Equity — delivering consistent levels of care regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, geographical location or socioeconomic status
Operational efficiencies can mean the difference between poor or positive patient outcomes. Patients needing emergency care who must sit for hours in a waiting room, for example, face the possibility of dire health consequences.
The WHO includes efficiency on its list of factors in providing effective care. The organization calls for care that’s available when needed but recommends using resources wisely and avoiding waste. Savvy health providers don’t order expensive tests — MRIs are one example — unless truly needed.
Patient satisfaction is a key component of patient outcomes. When people discuss their level of satisfaction with their care among family and friends — or share their feelings through online platforms — it affects a provider’s reputation, for better or worse. A patient’s satisfaction may focus less on clinical outcomes and more on factors such as whether a health professional explained a medical condition clearly or whether appointment scheduling was smooth.
Doctors and other health professionals increasingly deliver care under value-based purchasing insurance models. In value-based purchasing, insurers reimburse hospitals and other health care providers according to quality of care outcomes. For example, Medicare’s Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program outlines financial incentives for many factors, such as safety and efficiency, that affect patient outcomes.
Electronic Health Records and Patient Outcomes
Analyzing data is one way to improve patient outcomes, and technology can assist in that process. EHRs collect and store patient information, basically serving as a digital version of a patient’s paper chart.
EHRs store all the same standard clinical data kept on paper records, such as medical history, diagnosis, medications and treatment plans. They make tools accessible to health care professionals that help them make decisions about a patient’s care. EHRs also serve to automate workflows for treatment.
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) reports that EHRs can assist in diagnosing health conditions because they allow for quick access to a patient’s complete health picture. Instead of merely storing information records, such as paper files, EHRs can help providers organize data to produce information that meets a patient’s specific situation. Here are examples:
- Checking drug interactions when a doctor prescribes medications
- Providing others on a care team with information about potentially life-threatening allergies
- Informing hospitals and medical practices of safety problems
- Assisting in identifying and correcting operational problems
The ONC found that 75% of doctors surveyed reported that EHRs helped them deliver better patient care.
Lead the Way in Improving Patient Outcomes
Interested in learning more about how to improve patient outcomes? The online executive MHA program from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy can help you transform your health care leadership and set the standard for care.
You’ll learn how to improve your decision-making, analysis, leadership and interpersonal communication — all qualities that can help guide outstanding care and patient outcomes. The Executive Master of Health Administration program offers the flexibility of online education with in-person opportunities including medical site visits. Discover how it can help you achieve your professional goals.