Strong Patient-Provider Relationships Drive Healthier Outcomes

“The proper goal for any health care delivery system is to improve the value delivered to patients … To properly manage value, both outcomes and cost must be measured at the patient level,” Harvard’s Robert Kaplan and Michael Porter tell us. But, why do we only define patient value by outcomes and cost?

With over 50% of primary care providers believing that efforts to measure quality-related outcomes actually make quality worse, it seems there may be something missing from the equation. Relationships may be the key. Surveys consistently demonstrate that patients prioritize both the interpersonal attributes of their providers and their individual relationships with providers above all else. Doctors also ascribe great value to relationships. Kurt Stange, an expert in family medicine and health systems, calls relationships “the antidote to an increasingly fragmented and depersonalized health care system.”

For the last two years we’ve been studying organizations that experts consider exemplars of primary care as part of a case-based series. Our findings have been consistent and surprising. All the practices and systems we’ve studied prioritize relationships with patients over cost and outcome measures, which they often assess through such indicators as accessibility (time to next available appointment) and patient-satisfaction and engagement metrics. The leaders of these practices all believe that by promoting relationship building on an individual patient level, favorable costs and outcomes will follow. Here’s a brief account of what we found:

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