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Welch: To Improve, Health Care Must Partner With Patients and Families

Further, as Congress considers ways to reduce federal spending, it should look to continue health care delivery system reform. These legislative efforts should be designed to drive patient-centered care that rewards providers for quality, rather than volume, of care delivered. Not only does this have bipartisan support, but hospitals and clinics that are changing their service delivery models and designing patient and family partnerships have already demonstrated impressive results — improving care and getting better value for the dollar. For instance, since 2004, the Georgia Health Sciences Neuroscience Center of Excellence has built innovative partnerships with patients and family members in its outpatient and inpatient settings, and the results have been impressive. Patient safety has improved, with medication errors decreasing by 65 percent since 2006. Patient experience scores, which initially were in the miserable 10th percentile, skyrocketed to satisfaction levels in the 90th percentile. There have been financial benefits as well, as nursing turnover in the Neuroscience Center has fallen. Throughout the Georgia Health Sciences Health System, where patient and family collaborations have propagated widely, annual litigation costs have also decreased by $1.3 million.

The GHS Health System is not an isolated success. The Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care in Bethesda, Md., has documented other success stories, from clinics to inpatient services, from acute care centers to rehabilitation centers and long-term care facilities. Partnerships with patients and families are yielding impressive results — both in terms of improved quality and reduced spending — in a wide variety of settings.

Partnering with patients and families, which means directly involving patients in designing and improving care, could prove a surprisingly simple tool for improving health care quality, lowering costs, and humanizing the patient experience. Congress can play an important role in encouraging these alliances to transform care.

Jonathan R. Welch is an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

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