Students on Serving The Underserved; Week 5

by Anne Zachry, UTHSC Assistant Professor, Occupational Therapy

What is patient-centered care? To provide patient-centered care, it is important to first determine the needs of the patient. When I have the initial meeting with a family, I always ask the parent (and child - if he or she is old enough and able to communicate), “What is important to you? What do you want to be able to do? What is your child having difficulty with on a daily basis? What is your goal for your child?" Gathering this information provides a solid foundation for patient-centered care.

Sometimes, as healthcare providers, we think we are delivering patient-centered care, but that is not always the case. For example, as part of a grant award, I’ve been providing free developmental screenings at a pediatric practice in Whitehaven for the past three years. The families in this area have limited access to such services, so this is a wonderful program. If an infant or child does poorly on the screening, I refer the child to therapy services through Tennessee Early Intervention Services (TEIS). When I first started providing the screenings, I would follow up with the parents six to eight weeks after the referral was made, and I discovered that the children were often on waiting lists, and the waiting periods averaged from 4 to 6 months. That’s a long time for a 12- or 18-month old who is struggling with fine or gross motor skill development! I realized that carrying out the screenings alone was not solving the problem and being patient-centered, so I decided to add a parenting education session after the screening. In these educational sessions, I share a number of games and activities that the parents can carry out with their children to improve the skill areas that have been identified as weak. Parental involvement is absolutely necessary for a child to make progress in therapy, and this is the perfect way to get parents involved…through play!

Communication is an extremely important part of patient-centered care. I truly believe that the cornerstone of effective communication is the ability to listen! It’s so important to take the other person’s perspective and do your best to put yourself in their shoes! It can be difficult, but it is necessary to resist the urge to talk. This allows you to gain important information about your client. Collaboration is also a key part of patient-centered care. It’s important to make connections in the community and know your resources so that you can refer a patient when needed. One individual can’t do everything or fix everything. It takes a team!

I’m just one person, and I realize that I can’t change the world, but the bottom line is that it’s the little things that really matter in life. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to give and try and make a difference. Giving to others makes my life meaningful.