Realizing different perspectives to identify the value proposition for whole person care

Disclaimer: thought bubble alert – this is a bit of thinking out aloud as I work through some ideas about personalised care versus systemic change in health care. So here it goes.

Whole person care is elusive both in definition and implementation.

The definition of whole person care articulated by Hutchinson focuses on the distinction between the healthcare worker being focused on ‘curing’ the patient and ‘healing’ the patient. Yet this is only one of many attempts to address the progressive depersonalisation of medicine and healthcare. When I trained these problems were discussed in relationship to the biopsychosocial model of healthcare. Patient-centred care is probably the official term for a more personalised approach to medicine despite the parallel development of the whole person care movement. Another group refers to integrated models of care. No doubt the advocates for each of these models of care draw distinctions between their definitions and goals, and also different parties (patients, nurses, physicians, and healthcare systems) claim ownership of delivery of this care. Ultimately these distinctions do not help advance the cause at a scalable level.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement has proposed the Triple Aim:

– Improving the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction)
– Improving the health of populations, and
– Reducing the per capita cost of health care

The Triple Aim provides a potentially useful framework for considering the implementation of whole person care. Whole person care does attempt to improve the patient experience of care but arguably the degree of one-on-one care suggested by whole person care is not achievable if the healing and curing is to be delivered by the same individual. Even with the growth in heatlhcare as the top employer it is unlikely that enough healthcarers could be trained and employed to provide ‘perfect’ whole person care and reduce the per capita cost of health care.

In this regard I would suggest that we view whole person care from a systems perspective and from the perspective that by introducing systemic change that is oriented to the whole person the Triple Aim could be satisfied.

In a systems approach we could hypothesise that although the ideal might be completed personalised care that there are common values, albeit with cultural variation, that could serve as the basis for interventions that effectively enhance whole person care or patient centre-care but built around change that can be made across systems rather than through training and enculturing of individuals.

Early discussion of a palliative approach may reduce unnecessary admission to intensive care, attempts at resuscitation and other inappropriate care at the end-of-life. Dignity therapy (Chochinov) can improve quality of life and reduce distress and depression. The minimally disruptive medicine approach (Montori) could ultimately translate into reduced use of face-to-face consultations or presentations to emergency care. Minimally disruptive medicine is concordant with our research which has shown that patients with a new diagnosis of cancer, who aren’t immediately terminal, desire normalcy.

So perhaps, there are values, like the desire for normalcy, that can drive system changes to improve the quality of health care but also meet the requirements of the 3rd of the aims, reducing per capita cost of health care. Values of importance could include all of the attributes of patient-centred care as described by Berwick: transarency, individualizaton, recognition, respect dignity and choice in all matters, without exception, related to one’s person, circumstances and relationships in heatlhcare.

The key in taking this approach is striking a balance in the weighting between the ‘values’ recognised by the system i.e. cost, occasions, of service, and sometimes arbitrary metrics of quality, and actual perceived quality of care as described by patient reported outcomes. The current system, specifically in relation to pharmaceuticals, but other aspects of health care, over-rewards in financial terms for small gains in cure and and under-rewards, or possibly doesn’t reward at all, any gains in healing. Health care , cannot only be defined by economic measures and so we should acknowledge that there needs to be some leeway in aligning and balancing economic value with value for the individual – it may be that we can deliver both.

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