Health Care

Passport programs at hospitals facilitate patient-doctor communication

Female doctor holding application form while consulting patient

Female doctor holding application form while consulting patient

A doctor comes to the patient’s hospital room with a clipboard, gives a brisk update on important points and then is gone, before the patient has a chance to digest the treatment plan or speak up about their own desires or concerns. 

That all-too-common experience can leave hospital patients feeling powerless, intimidated and frustrated by the lack of opportunity to describe their needs or have a say in decisions about care. Some hospitals are turning to a document known as a “patient passport” to help bridge the communication gap.

Like a standard medical record, the patient passport has basic data such as medical diagnosis and prescription drugs. But there are also places where the patients provide the information, such as how they cope with health conditions and the activities they need assistance with, as well as their concerns about being hospitalized and their quality-of-life goals for after discharge. They may request counseling to help deal with illness, understand medical terms or discuss end-of-life care.

Many patients are afraid to ask doctors questions for fear of appearing to challenge them, studies have found, and doctors often don’t take the time to listen to their input. Yet when patients and families are fully involved in medical decisions and able to express themselves, studies show it can result in better patient outcomes, lower risk of medical errors and fewer readmissions after discharge. In addition, patients incur lower costs and rate their satisfaction more highly. Over the past few years, Medicare has been basing some hospital payments on patient satisfaction surveys.

The aim of a patient passport “is to even the playing field and improve the quality of conversations that lead to deeper and more trusting relationships between providers and patients,” says Susan Frampton, president of Planetree, a nonprofit hospital membership group that promotes “patient-centered care.” Knowing a patient’s personal story and preferences “can impact the entire plan of care,” Ms. Frampton says.

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