The popular catch-phrase “patient-centered care” is often used, but may be missing the mark in many cases. Another catch phrase is “data-driven strategy” but are medical practices taking the time to understand what the data is telling them? Recent studies have attempted to decode these dynamics. In this article, we propose a new approach to patient-centered care that can be applied in virtual, telemedicine-style practices and in-person clinics alike.
What do patients really want?
Taking a moment to consider this question leads us to factor in patient perceptions of the medical care they are provided with and, by contrast, what their preferences are. It turns out that one thing patients are looking for is virtual care options. It can be confusing, however, for providers to know how to market their practice online and most will make a very common marketing mistake, which is to feature a service or procedure.
The majority of patients are not coming to a doctor asking for specific lab tests, procedures, medications or supplements. They come to a doctor because they feel less than optimal and want to feel better. Practitioners should realize that they really are selling wellness and need to meet the patients where they are.
Looking at the recent upwelling of interest in “lifestyle medicine” by practitioners and patients alike tells us that this strategic approach offers something compelling that is well aligned with today’s patient needs. In marketing terms we should first identify the problem and then propose a solution. The value proposition should match what the patient really wants, which in this case is to experience a state of wellness.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll set aside the smaller subset of patients who genuinely do require a panel of specialty lab tests for differential diagnosis. Let's consider a new approach to patient care that can be more easily applied to a large number of today’s patients, especially when delivered online or in groups.
When lifestyle, diet, and exercise patterns are improved, and the power of epigenetics and nutrigenomics are leveraged in a programmatic system, it is easy to see positive shifts in the patient landscape. Anecdotal feedback from practitioners is that patients often report feeling better within just a few weeks of applying this approach. Once the picture clarifies, then that is the time to utilize lab tests if necessary to focus in on remaining symptoms.
The six foundational naturopathic principles provide a solid reference framework that “honors the body’s innate wisdom to heal and gives patients the tools for lifelong wellness”. In addition, reducing negative inputs to the physical system and increasing positive inputs can set in motion a shift that will, in and of itself, lead the patient toward that which they really want- to feel good. It also helps them begin to establish sustainable patterns that will maintain results in the long term.
Providing a simple and clear program will help patients move through this process in an efficient manner and will motivate patients with quick results that increase compliance and follow-through. In a more allopathic-oriented practice approach it is not uncommon for patients to begin care only to fade away due to lack of a clear program. This is frustrating for both the patient and the practitioner, especially when it becomes a repetitive pattern that never delivers the satisfaction of realizing the promise of wellness expected through lifestyle medicine. It is important for the patient to realize maximum value from the care being offered and a clearly defined program can help them achieve this goal.
In the same way that one wouldn’t enroll in a medical school that said “just keep coming until you lose interest and we’re not really sure what you’ll get out of it”, patients are frequently asked to do just this with their health care. Creating a programmatic, systematized approach provides a structure that allows the process to be more efficiently managed, with defined phases of care, and built-in accountability for both parties along with quantified results measured along the way.
A true, patient-centered lifestyle medicine program would include:
- A comprehensive questionnaire to provide a baseline to quantify progress with reassessments at intervals.
- A detoxification and elimination diet phase to remove negative inputs.
- A nutrition-centered phase providing sustainable diet and lifestyle templates providing positive inputs.
- A wellness/maintenance phase, or a more condition-specific branch as indicated.
- Easy patient-practitioner communications.
- Frequent email and text reminders to help patients stay on track and enhance compliance.
- An easy system to fulfill prescriptions for high-quality dietary supplements when diet alone isn’t enough.
Creating and administering an online program infrastructure can be challenging, resource intensive and expensive so look for an integrated solution that will help practitioners deliver the best care within an affordable and user-friendly ecosystem. Additionally, find a technology partner who provides concierge-style hand holding during the implementation process.
Offering online lifestyle medicine programs for patients is an opportunity whose time has come and presents a win-win for both patients and practitioners. It offers an efficient and profitable way for practitioners to better leverage their time and help as many patients as possible. A well-run program will “teach them how to fish” and improve the likelihood that patients will continue to realize the promise of the care being offered for a long term, sustainable solution. Give patients what they really want- the gift of wellness.
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