CHICAGO — In this health care environment, you’re being asked to do a lot: Control your costs. Reduce your dose. Collaborate with referring physicians and other providers. But the most important thing you can do, according to industry experts, is focus on the patient.
Shifting your emphasis from maximizing your productivity to optimizing your patient’s experience will likely mean changing your practice model or shuffling your priorities, but it’s the right thing to do, said Brent Wagner, MD, a radiologist with West Reading Radiology Associates near Philadelphia, at this year’s RSNA annual meeting.
“As radiologists we might see two or three patients a day,” he said. “Each of those interactions should be perfect. It’s our job to make them perfect.”
To get as close to that perfect as possible, Wagner offered a five-step road map.
First, he said, you must accept that finding a balance between fulfilling your patients’ expectations and maintaining an efficient practice is imperative. Either extreme — focusing solely on the patient or completely on your practice — is an unsustainable model and will drive you out of business.
One feasible option for moving your practice toward patient-centeredness is to utilize the manpower that could already be at your disposal. Rather than taking on added on-call duties, shift this responsibility to your residents. This way, patients have easy access to a radiologist who can answer their questions, and residents gain hands-on experience with provided patient-centered care.
In addition, don’t ignore the low-hanging fruit. Look around for opportunities that can push you toward focusing more on your patient. For example, Wagner said, if your practice is associated with a hospital emergency department, take steps to streamline your read process so you’re getting the report to the emergency physician before the patient returns to his or her room.
You also have ready-made opportunities with patients, said Volney Van Dalsem, MD, a radiologist with the Stanford Medicine Imaging Center in Palo Alto, Calif. Take the time for face-to-face contact, no matter how brief it is.
“We make a point to try and meet every patient. To say hello and thank them for coming to our facility,” he said. “We introduce ourselves and give them information about when their report will be available.”
Your patient-centered emphasis will also likely increase if you create an environment that lets your providers focus on the work they’re supposed to be doing. Make it easy for them to do the right thing for the patient by putting policies in place that help them meet patient expectations. Wagner said his practice has such protocols for diagnostic mammograms and hysterosonograms: Radiologists discuss their interpretations and possible treatment plans with patients, as well as answer any questions, before the patient leaves the facility.
However, being patient-centered doesn’t mean only providing services that increase a patient’s convenience or satisfaction. Sometimes, it means creating a positive environment.
“Speak well of others. Compliment the patient’s doctor when you see who the referring physician is,” Wagner said. “If I speak well of others, I look good. And, the patient leaves feeling that their orthopedist — or whoever it is — is the best doctor in town. It gives them a good feeling about having a study done.”
Most importantly, he said, take a long view of fashioning a patient-centered practice. These changes won’t happen overnight, and they might even disrupt your daily workflow for a while. But, they’re necessary for making the patient your No. 1 priority.
“Don’t worry about the operational impact on tomorrow or next week’s work,” he said. “If you like what you’re doing today and want to be doing it for years in the future, you have to set up the situation where hospitals and your patients believe you’re a good radiologist.”