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    What makes a high-risk patient, and how do we care for them?

    Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Henry Anhalt, DO, who is in private practice treating pediatric patients with type 1 diabetes. He is also chief medical officer for T1D Exchange, a nonprofit organization. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Medical Economics or UBM Medica.


    Quality means different things to different people, especially as it pertains to healthcare. To those receiving care, quality can mean the amount of time their doctor gives to them during a visit or even the promptness of the visit.


    Further reading: Do quality measures disillusion young doctors?


    With the paradigm shift to value-based care, physicians, health plans and policy makers are all striving for a crucial goal—achieving better outcomes at lower costs. This is challenging for a typical patient. How can we help our highest-risk patients achieve the best possible outcomes at the lowest possible cost? It’s complex but there’s one answer that’s simple: use empathy.

    Henry Anhalt, DO

    There are a lot of factors out of our control when treating high-risk patients.

    Today, we can’t cure most chronic illnesses. We can’t ensure access to or desire to live a healthy lifestyle. We can’t make our patients younger or take away compounding issues that put them at high risk. We have limited control over patients who can’t make appointments due to lack of transportation, or various family factors.

    It can be difficult to treat patients whose insurance doesn’t cover specific medications. While we face plenty of limitations, there are factors we can control. Using empathy (putting yourself in the patient’s shoes) is one of the simpler – yet mostly effective - ways physicians can help high-risk patients.

    Empathy is a powerful communication skill that is vitally important to the patient-physician relationship. Validating a patient’s emotions can instantly change the dynamic of the conversation and increase the efficiency and value of gathering information. 


    Related: Better quality will equal better pay for physicians


    The empathy we as physicians convey to our patients, their families, and to our staff creates the culture necessary to improve outcomes and patient satisfaction. However, empathizing can be difficult at times, especially when a patient doesn’t feel comfortable opening up to discuss how they are feeling. High-risk patients are especially susceptible to this – they may not want to share a prior experience that contradicts your care plan for them.

    Next:  A few key steps to effective empathy

    Henry Anhalt, DO
    Chief Medical Officer for T1D Exchange, a nonprofit organization that has created a new paradigm fostering collaboration among patients, ...


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