Power to the patients Council CommunityBetter health outcomes can be expected when the focus is on patients’ perception of control, effective communication of information, and assistance in the selection of healthcare providers

Collated and edited by Prof. Edward Yagi, Nanzan University Graduate School of Business Administration, for the Council on Business & Society

Contributors: Dr. Eishu Hai, CEO, Medixfirm Co., Ltd.; Prof. Bernd Helmig, University of Mannheim, Business School; Mr. Eisuke Suzuki, CEO, Medical Insight Company; Prof. Michael Woywode, University of Mannheim, Business School

Empowering people does a world of good

What role do patients play in the decision-making process, and how can they be made to feel more in control of their treatment? The evidence speaks for itself: when people experience a high degree of perceived control, they initiate action, exert more effort, and their emotional state is improved. As a result, outcomes including healthy lifestyle behaviors and a higher overall quality of life are improved as well. On the other hand, when people perceive control as impossible, they become passive, fearful, pessimistic and distressed.

Helping to match needs and solutions

A theoretical framework based on a review of hundreds of journal articles provides several useful guidelines for policymakers. For example, managers designing health policies should utilize information provision and dissemination techniques, which are powerful tools that enhance health-related control perceptions. Patients need power most in the case of diseases which are chronic and severe, such as cancer or HIV, as the patient’s journey can be a long process starting from choice of provider and continuing through to daily life management and possibly end-of-life care. Problems for patients in the choosing of a provider include a large number of options and no clear logic for selection. New technology, including social media, may not actually assist, and in fact may constitute a hindrance as there is often misinformation and bias. Consequently, some way to assist with the matching of patients and doctors is required.

Don’t understand? Communicate!

Effective communication is often the key to preventing or solving misperceptions and the medical field is no exception. Good communication skills are directly linked to good medical quality. In Japan, for instance, some patients, fearful of being in control, feel that doctors should make the final decision in which case information must be provided and a decision taken for them. In this case, the difficulty is ensuring that the patient continues with their treatment program, which requires empathy to ensure that the patient is convinced of the decision. The gap between educated patients and uneducated patients is also becoming wider, and therefore healthcare providers need to be able to deal with a wider range of situations. Good communication between doctor and patient is fundamental to good medical quality and outcomes. Doctors may want to communicate more, but due to large numbers of patients and administrative overheads, “three hours of waiting for three minutes of service” is unfortunately all too common. Healthcare providers have a responsibility to provide explanations using non-technical vocabulary, but evidence shows that there is normally no training given in this area. Subsequently in Japan, an experiment has been undertaken for education supporters from the community to help young healthcare professionals to better understand communication and the skills involved.

Collated and edited by Prof. Edward Yagi from notes taken at the Council on Business & Society Forum Healthcare at the crossroads of business and society

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