“I don’t care what you think until I think that you care.”
I heard that quote and I can’t stop thinking about how perfectly this applies to health care, specifically to consumers’ thoughts and attitudes about the kind of health care they are seeking.
Over the years, The Melior Group has conducted thousands of focus groups with consumers about their decision-making and preferences for providers. The word “quality” gets used a lot. We hear some version of the statement “I want to go to a hospital/doctor/other provider that is known for delivering high quality care” in every single focus group.
So what does “high quality healthcare” mean?
I’ve asked this question in more ways than I can count, searching, searching for clarity.
Because every time I would ask that question, I would get what I believed was a naïve answer – something like: “A quality doctor is someone who listens to me,” or, “ I want to go someplace where I can really talk to my doctor.”
After hearing some version of this for the umpteenth time, I told myself that if I could only ask the question right, then I would get a “better” answer, like “quality healthcare means there are good outcomes” or “quality means practicing evidence-based medicine.”
I told myself that the consumers who were focused on doctors’ communication skills and “bedside manner” were missing the point: to my mind, healthcare “quality” had nothing to do with interpersonal skills.
And then I heard that quote.
It was really an “ah ha” moment. Of course! As a patient, why would I value what a doctor was recommending to me – even if he/she was amazingly credentialed, the leading doctor in that field, educated at Harvard, yada yada – unless that doctor seemed to care enough about me to attempt to really get to the bottom of my particular problem, and my goals for treatment?
So what does caring in the medical setting mean? Does it mean…
Wearing a button that says “Ask me”?
Making small talk in the examining room?
Claiming, in advertising, that each patient is more than a number?
I don’t think so. Rather, I think that my focus group participants have got it right: by listening — really listening, restating the information to make clear that they have heard what their patient is saying, and asking the right questions — medical providers convey caring. In so doing physicians are better able to diagnose the real problem, and to suggest a treatment approach that a patient will be more likely to comply with.
Now that sounds like high quality healthcare.
Elizabeth Cohen is Vice President of The Melior Group, and our lead consultant in our work in the health care sector.