On November 5, 2018, NYSHealth hosted its annual Empowering Health Care Consumers conference. This year’s conference explored how patients and providers can better partner with one another, with examples of on-the-ground “partnership in action” strategies and innovations.

Dr. Eric Manheimer, former medical director at Bellevue Hospital, delivered the keynote speech. He is currently a producer, a writer, and the medical consultant for the NBC TV series New Amsterdam, based on his book 12 Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital and his own experience as a physician turned cancer patient. Drawing on a theme from last year’s conference, Dr. Manheimer reminded the audience that as health care in America has evolved into more of a business, patients are suffering because they are not the focus of the system.

Through his experiences as both a patient and a provider, Dr. Manheimer spoke about how his own battle with cancer changed him and his perspective of the health care system. He urged providers to listen to their patients, emphasizing that the words they use matter and that listening for patients’ unsaid questions is crucial. If a patient’s case is complicated, visit their home, he suggested. Oftentimes, answers can be found outside the hospital walls. For patients, he encouraged them to keep searching for the right provider until they find one that makes them feel heard. He also cautioned that physicians do not have all the answers and that patients must have an active role in their care, too. Dr. Manheimer concluded with the question, “What is medicine for? When we can answer that correctly, I think we’ll know what to do.”

Following the keynote, NYSHealth Vice President for Programs Sharrie McIntosh moderated the first panel, “Partnership in Action: Patients and Providers,” comprising patients, patient advocates, and providers. Panelists discussed how they are working together to advance patient-centered care, meaningful engagement, and partnerships. The panel featured:

  • Martha E. “Meg” Gaines, JD, LLM, Director, Center for Patient Partnerships, University of Wisconsin Law School; and cancer survivor
  • Abby Rosmarin, Esq., LMHC, Patient Partner, Northern Westchester Hospital
  • Julian C. Schink, MD, Cancer Treatment Centers of America
  • B. Paul White, MD, Surgeon, Northern Westchester Hospital

The discussion largely focused on the importance of patient and provider communication: Not just accurately conveying appointment times and test results, but communicating in a way that builds space for listening and compassion. As a patient-provider team, Ms. Gaines and Dr. Schink emphasized the need for trust between the patient and family and the provider when navigating an illness in our current health care system. Patient and provider relationships are successful when the doctor knows how to listen. It is also important to understand that some patients want to be very engaged participants in their care, whereas others may choose to take a less active role. In either scenario, the wishes and readiness of the patient to be a partner in their own care must be respected. Dr. White and Ms. Rosmarin talked about a course they co-designed that is focused on improving how providers communicate and interact with patients, especially in times of stress and conflict and during end-of-life discussions. Stressed patients and family members can find it difficult to absorb all the information doctors give them. The course enhances a provider’s ability to communicate with patients and their families by developing skills in self-reflection and active listening, among others. They also discussed the role of Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFACs) in serving as a vehicle for patients and families to meaningfully engage with and play a role in improving the health care system.

NYSHealth Program Officer Amy Shefrin moderated the second panel, “How Listening to Patients Leads to Innovation,” which featured a discussion on how providers, payers, and other sectors are elevating patient voices, with resulting positive outcomes. Panelists were:

  • Rick Evans, MA, Senior Vice President & Chief Experience Officer, NewYork-Presbyterian
  • Jason A. Wolf, PhD, CPXP, President, The Beryl Institute
  • Sue Woods, MD, MPH, President, Society of Participatory Medicine

The panel‘s key message was that we already know what is needed to improve the health care system—we are just not doing it yet. Doctors and patients are constantly surveyed. And in the age of the internet, people are not solely providing feedback through a provider survey; they also are doing so through websites like Yelp or their personal networks. Although the panelists agreed that listening to the patient is critical, providers must also take a more proactive stance. Dr. Wolf noted that providers have to ask patients what they need in the moment, as well as be honest about what can and cannot be done. Dr. Woods talked about how health care is not about being accountable for patients, but rather being accountable to patients. “Innovation is great, but before innovation occurs, patients and providers need to go back to basics and learn how to talk and listen to one another,” she said. Mr. Evans shared how NewYork-Presbyterian is piloting new surveys with open-ended questions that spur patients to share more about their experiences, which in turn can lead to better engagement with providers. Mr. Evans also emphasized the importance of PFACs in the continuum of care, noting that in New York State not all hospitals have a PFAC, but all of them should.

Read biographies of the conference speakers.

Watch a video to learn more about NYSHealth’s efforts to empower health care consumers.

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