Most of the patient problems that find their way into the health care system are appropriately resolved at the level of primary care. Being on the frontlines of health care, primary care physicians (PCPs) are considered to be the first point of contact for patients regarding their health. It is thus necessary that primary care of the patients is thorough and accurate.
However, PCPs are often blindsided by the lack of complete information on their patients. This leads to inefficient care, and ultimately, it is the patients who get harmed the most as illnesses go undetected during primary care and are left untreated for a more extended period.
Rita Goodman is a 33-year-old patient who had been seeing her PCP for her constant headaches. Since the PCP had only partial records of Rita, he or she could not diagnose the illness that was germinating in her digestive system. On several occasions, she had been referred to different specialists by her PCP as her blood test results came out negative for the most common illnesses. Later, it was found that Rita had a significant amount of gluten intake in her diet and that had led to the occurrence of celiac disease in her small intestine. Had her PCP been provided with Rita’s health information such as medications, allergies, laboratory test results, and family medical histories, her disease could well have been caught in time, before it could progress and cause a lot of suffering.
The story of Rita is one of many examples that show how a headache was the cause of a painful disease that was left untreated because of multiple inaccurate diagnoses which happened due to the lack of information. Without a PCP looking at “the big picture,” connections like these may never be noticed and should be a cause of alarm for physicians across the ecosystem.
Why are PCPs bearing the brunt of complicated and uncoordinated healthcare?
There are many problems that the PCPs are facing which are acting as a hindrance to high quality and efficient care. If the complete patient information is not provided to PCPs, then they cannot predict the future possibilities of a disease and therefore cannot affect consequences. While most PCPs solely rely on Electronic Health Records (EHR) data to treat their patients, these records are grossly insufficient as they give a very fragmented view of the patients. Moreover, the medical history of a patient can sometimes be incomplete within an EHR itself.
With EHRs, PCPs may have a wealth of data, but they can hardly gain any insights from it, without the backing of claims data. Health care needs raw data coupled with analytics to be able to truly carry out population health management and care management. They have applications for these which come into use at a later stage, but there is no way for them to get real-time information.
Why do they need more information? Wouldn’t that only lead to information overload? On the contrary, information when filtered according to relevance and on the basis of real-time updates can be crucial for PCPs to approach their patients methodically. PCPs need to start contextualizing information instead of considering it merely in isolation as opposed to something that is part of the whole.
Real-time and contextualized information can be central to decision-making. However, implementation of the same in the context of PCPs can be a challenge. It is, therefore, important to understand how PCPs learn from and use real-time information in their day-to-day decision-making process in primary care.
Why is information and context to PCPs crucial to improve patient care?
During the initial diagnoses, the exact problem might not be apparent to his previous medical history. At the primary stage, a patient may need an entirely different kind of care than the diagnoses suggest based on EHR data, which will only come to light when PCPs are provided with complete information on their patient.
Primary care can serve as the hub of an integrated health information system as access to both claims, and clinical data can lead to more coordinated care. By maintaining patient records of, among other things, medications, allergies, laboratory test results, and family medical histories, clinicians and care teams would not be shooting arrows in the dark. Such information serves a variety of purposes and can help patients avoid the problems that sometimes result when they see many different specialists, not one of whom has all the relevant information.
If possible, we should resolve symptoms at the primary stage of care
At all ages, patients benefit from the proactive measures that PCPs, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can take. Indeed, primary care is often considered the front line for many aspects of health promotion and disease prevention. Through timely updates on patient information, patients can preemptively cure illnesses.
PCPs shouldn’t struggle to stay in touch with patients beyond hospitals
An important feature of primary care is the continuity that results from an ongoing relationship with PCPs who know their patients and their patient’s health histories. Once equipped with the right information at the right time, PCPs are well-prepared for the challenges that their patients may come across in the future. Besides ensuring in-depth annual wellness check-ups and preventive care, patients can rest assured that their health is kept under check as their PCPs have a complete record of their medical history as and when it may be required.
Through routine check-ups, primary care can head potentially serious problems off at the pass. As a result, adults in the U.S. who have a primary care provider have 19% lower odds of premature death than those who only see specialists for their care.
Bridging the care and communication gaps
The early detection of disease can come about when claims data is combined with clinical data of patients. If PCPs ensure that there are no gaps in information, they can ascertain that there are no gaps in care.
Thus, contextualized information to the relevant person or group in health care provides opportunities for disease prevention and health promotion as well as early detection of health problems. It helps build bridges between personal health care services and patients’ families and communities that can assist in meeting the health needs of the patient. These are factors that comprise the key components of high quality and efficient health care for individuals.
The road ahead
As catching and treating problems early, which happens during annual check-ups, is cheaper than treating severe or advanced illness, which often brings patients to specialists, primary care can lead the revolution that’s currently taking place in health care. With PCPs playing the role of quarterbacks, primary care can not just save lives but also cut down costs. With the intertwining of health care and information technology, PCPs can make the right choice by leveraging information in a way that is relevant to them and their patients.
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