Patient outcomes are an important measurement of healthcare. What exactly are they, though, beyond how satisfied a patient is with his or her care or whether safety protocols were followed?
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) defines patient outcomes as the impact of a healthcare service or intervention that can include events or result in:
- Patient health status or quality of life
- Patient, provider and population attitudes and behavior
- New evidence, research, prevention strategies, treatments and care models
How are patient outcomes best achieved? By improving quality of care, operational efficiency and patient satisfaction.
As noted by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), quality assurance (QA) in healthcare refers to activities and programs intended to “assure” or promise improvement in quality of care in a defined medical setting or program. It involves:
- Assessing or evaluating quality
- Identifying problems or issues with care delivery and designing quality improvement activities to overcome them
- Conducting follow-up monitoring to make sure the activities did what they were supposed to
Healthcare QA is especially crucial for providers in helping patients manage chronic disease. Measurement for quality assurance and accountability is focused on identifying and overcoming problems with quality of care and assuring a sufficient level of quality across providers. Patient safety, low hospital readmissions and consistent and equitable care are all factors that should be examined as part of QA.
Operational efficiency is the capability to deliver cost-effective and quality products and services to patients. It mitigates duplicate and unnecessary tests and procedures using clinical data. The World Health Organization (WHO) includes efficiency on its list of factors in providing adequate healthcare and calls for available care — but recommends using the resources of providers wisely to avoid waste.
Patient satisfaction is, of course, a key component of positive patient outcomes for healthcare providers. It centers on whether a patient’s expectations about their medical care are met and their contentment with their healthcare provider(s).
Measuring patient satisfaction is especially important as providers continue to transition to value-based care. Patient feedback enables them to continually improve the level of care they provide, boost patient retention and maintain a positive reputation.
Perks of a Proactive Focus on Patient Outcomes
Focusing on and measuring patient outcomes results in myriad advantages, especially as consumers continue to take more of an active role in their care. It’s essential, though, that providers consider the health literacy of their patients. Why? Because nearly half of all adult patients in the United States have difficulty understanding and acting upon health information.
Health literacy enables patients to make well-informed decisions, easily access care and better manage health problems when they arise. Top tips for effective patient literacy include:
- Knowing your audience
- Using plain language
- Connecting the “why”
- Integrating creative teaching tools
- Confirming understanding of information
Emphasizing both patient outcomes and health literacy levels benefits healthcare consumers and providers. For example, it can contribute to a reduction in medical errors, which currently result in approximately 100,000 deaths each year and cost providers roughly $20 billion annually in lost revenue.
Hospitals, health systems and other providers can also reduce the rate of errors by:
- Following uniform safety procedures
- Coordinating efforts among care providers and pharmacists
- Diagnosing health concerns as carefully and quickly as possible
- Enhancing compatibility of health records
Another benefit of concentrating on patient outcomes is improved management of chronic disease. Roughly 40 million individuals in the U.S. are restricted in their day-to-day activities due to one or more common chronic health conditions. More than 75 percent of all healthcare costs are due to chronic conditions.
Providers can empower patients with chronic conditions to manage their care by encouraging early detection through preventative care and equipping them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be an equal partner in managing their conditions outside of regular office appointments. Making sure patients have enough knowledge about and are following their care plans is crucial when addressing a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease or even cancer.
Chronic disease management must eliminate gaps in care, which can result in missed or delayed diagnosis and more costly and invasive treatment in the future. Conversely, research has shown that continuity of care leads to patients being more likely to follow medical advice and utilize preventative care such as immunizations or cancer screening.
For more information about patient outcomes and other important healthcare topics, check out our new podcast, Happy Hour, Happy Patients, hosted by Lisa Blue, our Chief of Clinical Innovation.