Collaborating With Patients On Visit Agendas Improves Communication

Posted on April 26, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Maybe it’s because I spent many years as a reporter, but when I meet with a doctor I get all of my questions out, even if I don’t plan things out in advance. I realize that this barrage may be unnerving for some doctors, but if I need to fire off a bunch of questions to understand my care, I’m going to do it.

That being said, I realize most people are more like my family members. Both my husband and my mother feel overwhelmed at medical visits, and often fail to ask the questions they want answered. I don’t know if they feel pressured by the rapid pace of your typical medical visit, afraid to offend their doctor or have trouble figuring out what information will help them most effectively, but clearly, they don’t feel in control of the situation.

Given their concerns, I wasn’t surprised to learn that letting patients create and share an agenda for their medical visit – before they see their provider – seems to improve physician-patient communication substantially. New research suggests that when patients set the agenda for their visit, both the patient and their doctor like the results.

Study details

The paper, which appeared in the Annals of Family Medicine, said that researchers conducted their study at Harborview Medical Center, a safety-net county hospital in Seattle. The researchers recruited patients and clinicians for the study between June 9 and July 22, 2015 at the HMC Adult Medicine Clinic. The 67-clinician primary care clinic serves about 5,000 patients per year.

When participating patients came in for a visit, a researcher assistant met them in the waiting room and gave them a laptop computer with the EMR interface displayed. The participating patients then typed their agenda for the visit in the progress notes section of their medical record. Clinicians then reviewed that agenda, either before entering the exam room or upon entering.

After the visit, patients were given a survey asking them for demographic information, self-reported health status and perceptions of the agenda-driven visit. Meanwhile, clinicians filled out a separate survey asking them for their gender, age, role in the clinic and their own perceptions of the patient agenda.

After reviewing the survey data, researchers concluded that using a collaborative visit agenda is probably a good idea. Seventy nine percent of patients and 74 percent of clinicians felt the agendas improved patient-clinician communication, and both types of participants wanted to use visit agendas agenda (73 percent of patients and 82 percent of clinicians).

Flawed but still valuable

In closing, the authors admitted that the study had its technical limits, including the use of a small convenient sample at a single clinic with no comparison group, It’s also worth noting that the study drew from a vulnerable population which might not be representative of most healthcare consumers.

Nonetheless, researchers feel these data points to a broader trend, in which patients have become increasingly comfortable with electronic health data. “The patient cogeneration of visit notes, facilitated by new EMR functionality, reflects a shift in the authorship and “ownership” of [their data],” the study points out. (I can’t help but agree that this is the case, and moreover, that patients’ response to programs  like Open Notes support their conclusion.)

I’m not sure if my mom or hubby would buy into this approach, but I imagine that if they did, they might find it helpful. Let’s hope the idea catches fire, and helps ordinary consumers take more control of their clinical relationships.