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Nurturing The Doctor-Patient Connection

When I was 23 I remember being in an exam room, waiting for my doctor to come in for my annual exam. I trusted and loved this doctor and she knew it.

The door flew open and before I could say a word she said “Emily, what is going on? You’ve gained 10 pounds in the past year!”

She was right – there was something going on with me that year, and pretty quickly we got into a conversation about it, and she suggested a few things for me to do to help me get to a healthier place again. I don’t remember how long it took me to get back to my fighting weight, but I guarantee you it wasn’t long.

There is no substitute for an authentic and trust-based relationship between a patient and their physician. But as the business of healthcare grows more complex and profit-driven, it’s increasingly harder to find.

I believe it’s critically important not only for patients and caregivers to bear in mind as they seek their best primary care options, but it’s also important for the healthcare industry to emphasize, because it leads to better patient outcomes and, ultimately, lower costs for society.

The problem: as the modern healthcare industry has attracted more interest from investors, it has adopted business practices aimed at maximizing efficiency even while seeking great health outcomes. This is both understandable and laudable.

But that efficiency mindset has also led to patients being cared for by bigger and more diverse teams of professionals, including community health workers, nurses, medical assistants, and, especially, advanced-practice providers like physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

When the patient finally sees their doctor in the clinic, it’s too often a quick 15-minute visit with no real chance to talk or connect. With patients receiving care and advice from so many others on the care team, they can feel less connected to the person who’s driving their care plan.

It’s not what most patients and physicians want or need.

Both parties want more depth to their connections, and I believe it’s our job as healthcare leaders to help make it happen.

At Welcome Health, the company I’m blessed to lead, we too employ a multidisciplinary team of specialists and support professionals to help keep the engine of patient care running smoothly. No matter who is supporting the patient at any given moment, though, we design our systems and communications so that we keep the patient-physician relationship front and center. 

The patient knows that if she delivers key information to another member of the team, that information will make it to the doctor – and chances are good the doctor will proactively raise that information when they next meet. It’s that important to us.

There are so many things that can interfere with the patient-physician relationship, and we need to collectively solve for them. How can we as an industry create systems to better reduce the amount of time spent documenting visits and increase the amount of time spent with patients? How do we create financial incentives so doctors are rewarded for keeping patients healthy instead of performing procedures or ordering tests, as is sometimes the case?

How do we keep our physicians even more well-informed about a patient’s communications with other members of the care team – and how do we communicate that to the patient, so they know their doctor is caring for them even behind the scenes?

And how can we best involve physicians in designing a better healthcare experience? After all, they’ve got a front-seat view to how that experience unfolds. As we’ve found at Welcome Health, they appreciate the chance to deeply inform its design.

The bottom line: there’s a difference between providing care for a patient, and caring about the patient. When a patient welcomes a more authentic personal connection with their doctor, and she feels like her doctor really cares about her as a person, patients get healthier, faster.

Just like I did when I was 23.

We at Welcome Health are committed to supporting that type of relationship between a doctor and patient, even as we welcome other staff members to the care team. And we’re always looking to get better at it. If you have ideas on how to do it, please leave a comment or reach out. We’d love to talk more.

Picture of Emily Cook | CEO

Emily Cook | CEO

Emily is responsible for setting the strategy, ensuring the success of the company in fulfilling its mission, values, and value proposition for customers and achieving its performance objectives. Emily’s expertise is in population health management and in scaling organizations, particularly those that deliver care in patients’ homes.

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