12/03/2013 03:06 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2014

Putting Patients Back in the Health Care Conversation

The health care reform debate rages on in the United States. Issues ranging from which programs will be supported under the Affordable Care Act to websites crashing or how what new approach we will use to get "everyone" to engage with insurance companies. There is no shortage of stories about health care. We are doing a wonderful job of debating how we will reorganize dollars and processes. In all of this coverage the word that was missing for me: patients. How will we care for them? How are we re-organizing care that works for them? How will we connect with them in order to truly personalize their care plan and experience?

We have incredible scientific advances, clinical research and innovations at our disposal for fighting disease, but when it comes to emotional connectivity with patients, we still have a long way to go. When faced with a dramatic diagnosis such as cancer, patients are demanding personalized care using the latest and greatest technology, procedures and medicines available. At the same time, patients want the comfort of knowing that their health care providers are committed to them as individuals, not just a disease. Last year, we (Cancer Treatment Centers of America) sponsored a study to more deeply understand the cancer patient experience and what we learned was nearly one in four cancer patients and caregivers were dissatisfied with their care experience, independent of the clinical outcome.

Today, experience is everything. We have redesigned industries based on customer experience. Everything from shopping to coffee to hospitality. And now is our time to reimagine the patient experience through build an emotional connection. As health care leaders, patient experience should be central to how we design and operate in health care -- not just a byproduct of our work that defines our potential for reimbursement.

Let's start by reshaping the conversation in health care based on questions that explore connectivity to our patients. Think of these as the start to our "care team connectivity checklist."

  • Is this a "we" relationship? Actions speak louder than words, but words matter. In health care, roles are defined -- you are sick or injured, you are a physician or you are caring for a loved one. But, as our patients tell us each day, it makes a difference when "we" are in it together. Look for discussions, not just reports and appointments.

  • Does your care team remember little (non-illness or non-injury) details about you? It's the little things that build trust, credibility and connectivity. Your care team should know you, not just your illness or injury. These behaviors will encourage connectivity and engaged dialogue right from the start.
  • Are we matching expectations to actions? It's okay to ask your provider what to expect. In fact, look for signs of doctors, nurses and other administrators are showing you what to expect. When expectations are set and met, real connectivity happens.
  • Is your voice heard in this relationship? You know what is best for you. If you don't feel that actions are matching expectations, speak up. Spark a connectivity-driven conversation. You might find that you and your provider are looking at things from opposite perspectives. Developing shared understanding leads to more informed decisions.
  • Through the Cancer Experience Survey we learned that 83 percent of cancer patients found it important to be "involved fully" in their care. What this data tells me is that patients are demanding a different and deeper connection with us. Being committed to improving patient experience means taking health and healing beyond procedures, processes and medications -- and making it truly personal. As health care leaders, I encourage all of us to commit to building emotional connectivity with our patients and their families to improve their experience with us. This connectivity and experience will teach us where we need to go to provide care in the future.

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