BANGOR, Maine — It is not enough for doctors and hospitals to commit to improving the quality and safety of the care they provide. At a forum in Bangor on Thursday, health care leaders, employers and consumers agreed that patients must play a more active role in maintaining their own health and demanding high-quality care from their providers.
The forum at the Spectacular Event Center featured a live telecast from Washington, D.C., with talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz. Kathryn Bragdon, a nurse at the Helen Hunt Health Center in Old Town, was one of four individuals from around the country who participated in the telecast, which can be viewed online.
The “Care About Your Care” event kicks off a monthlong campaign aimed at engaging consumers in their own care, according to Dr. Lisa Letourneau, executive director of the Maine organization Quality Counts, a statewide group of physicians, hospitals and other providers dedicated to improving the quality of medical care in Maine. The national campaign will be rolled out in posters, brochures, public service announcements and other forms, she said.
Along with encouraging consumers to find and make use of publicly reported information about the doctors and hospitals they use, Letourneau said it is essential for individuals to take action to improve the care they get. Five things she said consumers should do:
• Become an established patient with a primary care practice and use that practice to coordinate specialty care.
• When medical care is received someplace else, be sure the primary care practice is informed and gets a full written report.
• Ask questions and insist on answers.
• Take notes during medical appointments to help remember instructions and information.
• Bring a friend or family member to medical appointments.
“We still support public reporting [of medical provider data] but these other steps are important, too,” she said. Quality improvement efforts must also focus on changing the way physicians are paid, providing financial incentives to spend time in conversation and consultation instead of ordering procedures and tests, she said.
Dr. Oz, speaking with a panel of federal health officials and the president of the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said, “Being a good patient is a matter of life and death.” Patients who know about their own health conditions, ask informed questions and keep track of changes in their status “challenge doctors to deliver the quality of care we dream of providing,” he said.
Bragdon, a care manager at the Old Town primary care practice, spoke about the importance of bridging health care gaps when patients are hospitalized or treated in other inpatient or outpatient settings. Patients may be discharged home with new diagnoses, changes in their medications, instructions for further testing and other critical information that too often gets lost, she said. Linking patients and providers through computerized patient records is key to improving care and avoiding rehospitalizations, she said.
“We all want the same thing, which is better care for our patients,” she said in an interview after participating in the national teleconference.
Bangor is one of just 17 federally designated “ beacon communities” that received significant funding last year — $12.8 million in Bangor — to pilot a three-year effort to improve the management of chronic disease. So far, about 1,200 patients in the Bangor area with chronic diseases are enrolled in special “care management” programs through the beacon community project.
One patient, 70-year-old Jan Roberts of Hampden, has been enrolled since the beginning of September. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1997, Roberts said at the forum that she now reports her twice-daily blood sugar levels to her physician at Husson Family Medicine so he can judge how well she is complying with and responding to his recommendations regarding her diet, physical activity and medication.
“I am not a well-disciplined person,” she said. “Now I am more aware of my status and more answerable for it. It will be good for me and help keep me on track.”
Thursday’s event tied together the efforts of the Bangor Beacon Community project, the Maine Quality Counts organization, the data-reporting Maine Health Management Coalition, the statewide Health InfoNet patient information network, and other groups committed to improving health care quality in Maine.