Advocates tell Georgia Health Sciences University conference that patient focus provides better care

Nearly 20 years ago, Dr. William Schwab and other advocates of patient- and family-centered care came to Augusta for a planning meeting for what would become Medical College of Georgia Children’s Medical Center.

What they found was everyone was in the room – patients, families and providers – was not only talking but listening to one another.

“That was so revolutionary at the time,” Schwab said, adding that the resulting children’s hospital provided a “fundamental” example for others who wanted to provide that kind of care.

Schwab returned to Augusta to speak Wednesday at Georgia Health Sciences University’s sixth annual Patient- and Family-Centered Care Conference. He also addressed residents and interns about the principles of providing that care.

Oftentimes, he said, it is not so much the provider’s knowledge as it is listening and understanding a patient’s concerns and background and conveying that back to the patient to build trust.

“The effect of your expertise may well depend upon your ability to build that relationship with patients,” said Schwab, who is a professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

It makes a measurable difference, Schwab said.

A study of 509 patients published last year found that those who received more patient-centered care had reduced usage of specialists, reduced hospitalization and less lab work. More importantly, their costs were reduced by 50 percent, which Schwab called a “stunning outcome.” A study of Department of Veterans Affairs patients that included patients from Augusta found that those who had a heart attack and got patient-centered care were at less risk of death a year later.

“It’s not only just being nice” to patients and families, he said, “It is actually something that is important to outcomes.”

Providing that kind of care is fundamental at the children’s hospital, meaning it is not so much preached as it is just done, pediatric intern Charles Hatcher said.

“I feel like we do it pretty well,” he said.

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