What its organizers deem the oldest international conference on patient-centered care seemed an unlikely mix: part pep rally, classroom, scientific forum, and group hug. In its 23rd year, Planetree’s International Conference on Patient-Centered Care drew about 800 people from 21 countries. Attending as a reporter, I met health-care professionals, executives, and others eager to learn or to teach others how to deliver the kind of health care patients want and need.
Clearly, Planetree had come a long way since its launch in 1978. Founder Angelica Thieriot had been hospitalized at a top San Francisco hospital for a mysterious, life-threatening virus. Doctors and nurses spoke about her but seldom to her, leaving her lonely and scared. They treated her disease but, except for two nurses, ignored her human needs, making her feel like “an old piece of meat.” That steeled her to work toward making health care more humane and holistic.
“Planetree” denotes the sycamore under which Hippocrates, a doctor in ancient Greece, taught his students. It symbolizes listening to patients and including them in health-care decisions. The nonprofit started as a consumer health library to empower patients. Now, it not only has headquarters in Derby, Connecticut, but also offices in Quebec, the Netherlands, Brazil, Germany, and Chile.
Planetree works with hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient clinics, and other health-care organizations to improve the care they provide. It urges them to see what they do through patients’ eyes and to put patients first in all they do.
The Beantown event
Planetree touted the 2015 meeting, held in Boston from October 11 to 14, as “Powered by Patients.” That slogan refers, at least in part, to the focus groups Planetree conducts with patients to learn what matters to them in their health care. Their input guides its work. For instance, Planetree designates hospitals and other organizations for excellence in patient-centered care, and patients’ views shape the criteria used to assess them.
The speaker list boasted a sprinkling of patients, often as keynoters, but the meeting was geared more to health-care insiders. Attendees included health-care managers, researchers, doctors, nurses, patient advocates, and patient experience officers. The latter, often called “chief experience officers” or “CXOs” when they work at the executive level, strive to ensure that patients have good experiences with their organization. More and more hospitals have been hiring them, particularly now that patients can share their experiences online, and hospital pay depends on outcomes such as patient satisfaction.
Conference sessions spanned a range of topics, such as:
• Hospitals’ trials and triumphs on the road to becoming patient-centered
• How to form collaborative care teams
• What nurses can do to improve patient satisfaction
• Chemotherapy at home
• What art adds to health care
For clinicians, the meeting offered practical advice on how to talk to patients, show empathy, and make decisions with rather than for them. Many of the speakers’ tips sounded good, but I often wondered whether they reflected scientific findings or educated guesses. In fact, Planetree president Susan Frampton, Ph.D., wrote in a 2014 article that the health-care industry must improve its care for patients now; it can’t wait for studies, however needed, to show what works.
Still, I preferred speakers who backed up their points with research. They included Laura Cooley, Ph.D., and Auguste Fortin, M.D., MPH, who taught communication skills on behalf of the American Academy on Communication in Health Care. They cited a 2011 study linking doctor empathy to better blood-sugar control in diabetes patients. They further noted that office visits in which doctors express empathy take less time than those in which they don’t, despite claims that doctors lack time for such niceties.
Some sessions focused on clinicians’ well-being, which may seem odd at a meeting on patient-centered care. Actually, Planetree’s website says, “In order to be patient centered, we first need to be staff centered.” That makes some sense; speaker Joonun Choi, M.D., of Stamford Hospital, noted an “epidemic of physician burnout”; burned-out doctors may have nothing left to give patients. Kay Glidden, MS, a certified compassion fatigue specialist and trainer, recalled a clinician who killed himself; he worked surrounded by behavioral health experts but couldn’t reach out to them. She called for a “culture of self care” that supports care providers taking care of themselves.
If you go to a Planetree meeting, bring tissues. Eyes watered when Alan Manning, Planetree’s chief operating officer, shared the ups and downs he and his wife faced while trying to save their baby, Katie, who was born with a lethal heart defect. On a lighter note, near the meeting’s end, Planetree staffers held signs outside meeting rooms, flashing messages like “You are awesome!” to conference-goers. Echoing Planetree’s efforts to transform health care, the meeting melded small, personal touches with big ideas.References:
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