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The Importance of 'Care' in Healthcare

One of the requirements under the Affordable Care Act is that data must be gathered and analyzed to determine what’s working well and what’s not. According to a study by a Virginia Tech Professor, what matters more to patients than anything else is the quality of the connection patients have with their doctors. 


Of course, the most important thing is getting better after you see your doctor...

“But we found out that it matters how the medical care is given. It matters, the care that the care provider shows.” 

Robin Russell is professor of Business Information Technology at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of business.  Her team surveyed patients about their doctors’ appointments.  They report that the most important factor is… well, the ‘care’ in health care.

“For example, what concern did your care provider show you? How well did they explain your diagnosis?  Did they go over medications with you? Were you able to ask questions?”

And she says, it’s more than just a feel good thing; that kind of attention and care actually feeds back into positive outcomes for patients.

“If a care provider, whether it’s a Physician or Physician’s Assistant, is being evaluated on these things, those are some boxes they want to check before they leave that room. They want to make sure you understand it.  They want to go over things with you. So that improves the quality of care overall."

The study found that feel of being cared for affects how well patients follow through with what the caregivers prescribed. And this was nothing like those surveys that ask you to rate your doctor or like the practice on Facebook. Russell conducted the survey under specific guidelines aimed at something that can be quite elusive: quality.  Let’s call it, the excellence of a thing; the essence of what makes something good, great, or not.

“We’re not asking questions about whether the furniture in the waiting room was comfortable, but we are asking questions like how long did you wait at this stage...how long did you wait at this stage? Were you able to get an appointment in a reasonable amount of time?  Did the group show concern for your privacy? And there were some questions about how friendly and considerate the staff is.”

And here’s one finding that might surprise you: they noticed that in recent years, the time doctors have to spend with each patient has grown shorter

“There wasn’t a strong correlation between the amount of time the physician spent with you and your estimate of the amount of time that they spent, because if they were more caring when they were in there the perception is that they connected with you more and that was what was important."

Under the affordable care act, hospitals, nursing homes and home health agencies are required to administer these surveys. It’s a way to ensure that Medicare and Medicaid are reimbursing doctors for high quality care. Survey results are posted online.  You can also put in your zip code and compare different hospitals, nursing facilities and long term care providers.

And you might think it’s a no brainer that the ‘care’ in health care is of utmost importance to providers.  But Professor Russell’s paper on Patient Satisfaction in Medical Clinicsproved it.  The Quality Management Journal named it the paper that made the largest single contribution last year to the extension and understanding of the philosophy of quality management.

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