How to Partner More Effectively with Your Patients on Treatment Plans

By understanding how social environment and other factors affect health outcomes of your patients (or “clients” for therapists, physical therapists, and chiropractors), you can provide more individualized treatment plans and improve quality of care.

There's been progress in recent years to put patients more at the center of their own care and treatment plans. However, when it comes to providing evidence-based care as practitioners, these two concepts can sometimes contradict each other. When discussing treatment outcomes for patients, remember what's important to them. While you are the expert in your own practice, it's the patients who are the experts in their own lives and individual medical conditions.

This point was reinforced in recent data gathered from providers of independent practices who participated in Kareo’s 2021 State of the Independent Practice survey. Working closely with patients in building treatment plans that they can adhere to more successfully was a message that came through in the data. To hear details on this topic and more, download a recording of our July 21 webinar on our State of the Independent Practice hub page.

The survey report is available now for download at our State of the Independent Practice hub page here. 

It’s important to remember that when working in partnership with patients, you understand their backgrounds and actively listen to them. Read on to learn how you can improve the provider-patient relationships even more.

Understand where your patient is coming from

Jessica Popham PhD, LMFT, a professor at Albizu University for the master’s in psychology program in Florida, works in a telehealth practice. With limited in-person interaction, Popham uses the insight she gained during her time in community mental health to incorporate her clients' personal lives when building a treatment plan. As a mental health practitioner, she found it hard to achieve emotional and mental well-being for her clients if they struggle with their own social and/or environmental factors that make getting and receiving quality care more challenging.

By asking open questions to get an idea of her clients' home lives, Popham can personalize a treatment plan that's not only helpful to the client but is one that meets the client where they're at.

Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, board-certified in both OB/GYN and Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln frequently works with undeserved women of color from the African and LatinX diaspora. Compliance with treatment plans is her main concern. This is due to the lack of transportation, childcare concerns, housing, or work issues.

Factors such as these can easily label a patient as non-compliant. Gaither strives to ensure all her patients have access to care. She has a social worker on staff to work with her patients to assess what's needed to make it to their prenatal appointments.

Make patients an active part of the care team

Including patients as part of the care team puts them on the frontline to be a decision-maker in their own health. It means the patient is involved in the research when it comes to their individualized treatment plan, along with the education and planning pieces. Gaither, who provides care to pregnant patients, many of whom are high risk, works alongside her patients to make sure they have a good understanding of their condition. There's frequently an interdisciplinary approach.

"I believe in frank open discussions," Gaither explains, "The physicians from all specialties who will have an input in the care of the (patient) and baby are at a meeting together to discuss every nuance with the [patient] and allow her the opportunity to ask questions and voice her concerns."

In telehealth therapy, Popham works regularly with a team that places clients at the center of their care. The challenge for her is explaining the misconceptions surrounding mental health care, especially since many of her clients come to her by referrals. "If they're going into detail about their life," Popham explains, "they're allowing me into their lives to see their perspective. I want to make sure I'm letting them speak and avoiding judgment to help build that trust between us.

"Working in partnership with your patients A lot of good has been done in the medical community in recent years with individualized treatment plans.

Here's how you can improve that partnership with your patients:

Have patient-defined goals

Goals toward care plans are directed at improving client health. The concern is when your goals don't match the goals that the patient has for themselves. In a 2018 study of palliative care patients and self-defined goals, researchers found participants had almost as many nonmedical goals as they did medical or physical goals. Popham focuses on her clients defining their own targets for therapy, so she's mindful of not telling them what to do.

"The client or patient is the expert on their life and knows the ins and outs of their experiences best. I'm an expert in mental health, but this has to be tailored to each individual."

Engage with your patient

While it's crucial each patient keeps their medical appointments, it's equally important to figure out why you have those who consistently miss their appointments. Just as Gaither connects her patients to social workers to assess needs when patients have issues affecting scheduled appointments, practitioners need to understand their patients' experiences along with their perspective. In her practice, Popham understands everyone can experience a mental health condition, such as anxiety, differently.

She asks her clients to describe or provide examples of how they're feeling in their life, so she can meet them where they're at with their symptoms, rather than assuming where they should be.

The importance of follow up

Following up with your client can help catch any concerns and address questions quickly. This gives a chance for you to adjust treatment plans if you need to. Popham follows up each session with a summary of what was discussed, to show her client she understood them and asks follow-up questions to make sure she has the full picture. It helps to show clients they're respected, she explains, and that she's genuinely interested in them.

Moving from problem-oriented care that's focused on the disease process to care that's based on a patient (or client) as a whole person is possible, and can improve not only quality of life, but the patient’s willingness to continue working with you as a practitioner.

For more information on improving the patient experience in your practice or clinic, download our free guide, How to Grow Your Practice and Create a Superior Patient Experience here. Also to find out how independent p[ractices view their practices today,  download our free 2021 State of the Independent Report at our hub page here. 

About the Author

Risa Kerslake, RN, BSN is a freelance writer who specializes in healthcare topics such as pharmaceuticals, mental health, wellness, and healthcare tech. She regularly...

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