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Air Force Medical Service embraces patient centeredness

779th Medical Group Recognition

779th Medical Group Recognition

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- The Air Force Medical Service is working to increase patient-and family-centered care throughout all operations. Patient centeredness is critical to AFMS’ delivery of safe, effective, high quality care. But what is patient centeredness?

“Patient centeredness is respecting our patients’ preferences, needs, and values, and making sure patients’ values are guiding all clinical decisions,” said Col. (Dr.) John Oh, chief, Preventive Medicine, Air Force Medical Support Agency.

The colonel was quick to add, “Supporting patient centeredness is like saying you like puppies. Who is going to say, ’I don’t support patient-and family-centered care’?” Yet too often the needs of the health care system drive the delivery of care. Col. Oh cited one extreme example of when he tried to schedule an appointment with a civilian provider years ago. “I was told the provider scheduled patients in sequence so that there would be no gaps. So the first caller would be given an appointment at 1300, the second would get 1315, etc. This was not a system designed around needs of patients!”

While that may be an extreme example, there remain many ways to improve patient centeredness today. Removing limits on family visiting hours is an example of a patient-and family-centered best practice, according to Lt. Col. William Fecke, chief, Medical Support Programs Division, Air Force Medical Support Agency. Allowing families to visit their hospitalized loved ones 24/7 is recommended by the Institute for Patient-and Family-Centered Care and the National Patient Safety Foundation. “Patients and families are our partners in making sure health care is safe and effective, and we should welcome their active engagement,” he said.

Improving patient activation and engagement, as part of patient centeredness, also leads to better outcomes and safer care. “Activated patients are less likely to be readmitted, experience a medical error, suffer poor care coordination and lose confidence in the health care system,” said Col. Timothy Stevens, patient centeredness project officer at Air Force Medical Support Agency.

Col. Oh said patients have access to an increasing amount of health information available on the internet that –when obtained from reputable and quality sources-- can be a force multiplier. “Providers sometimes joke about patients coming in with a list of 20 things they read about on the internet, but in general we should welcome and encourage patients to get more involved in their care and partner with us. We can provide safe, effective care if patients are comfortable speaking up, asking questions, voicing concerns and expressing their preferences.”