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Peace of Mind Essential to an Improved Patient Experience

H. Bryan Neel III MD, PhD Distinguished Research Lecture
2:30 – 3:30 pm
Room E450A

What is the appropriate metric to assess patient care? Tracking changes in mortality rates could be useful in specialties such as oncology, where death is a common outcome. However, mortality rates do not convey the less seriously ill patient’s experiences.

“Ultimately, you have to ask patients how they are doing,” said Thomas Lee, MD, MSc, chief medical officer for healthcare performance consultancy Press Ganey and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical school. “You can’t get performance outcomes from administrative data. You have to actually ask patients.”

Dr. Lee will discuss the latest in healthcare quality evaluation during his H. Bryan Neel III MD, PhD Distinguished Research Lecture, “The Reduction of Suffering as the Organizing Focus for Care.” A practicing cardiologist and primary care provider, he has watched medical care teams balloon from one or two providers to five, 10, and even more members for complex cases and procedures.

“Suffering is a painful word for those of us on the clinical side, but it is an important word to use,” Dr. Lee said. “The issue is how much suffering our patients go through; not just pain, but their peace of mind. We all know that there is a chance the patient will go home with a good clinical outcome but feeling that care was chaotic. There is a chance patients will wonder if their doctor has actually talked to the others involved in providing care. If patients go home wondering if something has fallen through the cracks, we have not given them peace of mind. We have increased their suffering, not reduced it.”

No one wants to leave patients wondering if they received good care. The challenge, he said, is that while innovations in healthcare have improved clinical outcomes, better care requires larger teams. The larger the team, the more likely it is for care to appear chaotic and unfocused instead of centered on the patient and the patient’s concerns.

“We must acknowledge that there is suffering, and our job is to reduce it,” Dr. Lee said. “Providers and health systems that can reduce suffering and improve their patients’ experience of care will be better off strategically.”

Reducing suffering and improving the patient experience is not about improving patient satisfaction scores. Patient satisfaction is a relic of the 20th century, when healthcare believed that clinical quality was good and not measurable, he said. The best providers and health systems could do was to make patients happier.

“The patient experience is about doing the real job of healthcare, giving people peace of mind that they have received the best care possible,” Dr. Lee said. “Reducing suffering is one of the most powerful secret sauces there is for driving improvements in care.”

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