Empathy Interviewing Elicits Patient’s ‘Story,’ Uncovers Social Determinants of Health

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

social determinants of health

Healthcare must mitigate patient risk factors outside of the hospital, referred to as social determinants of health (SDOH).

If healthcare hopes to move the needle on runaway expenses and improve the health of its communities, it must first focus on patients’ social and environmental circumstances, also known as social determinants of health (SDOH).

That’s the advice of Cindy Buckels, director of population health for TAV Health, which helps healthcare organizations navigate the challenges of SDOHs.

“When we don’t address these issues as we’re addressing someone’s health, we get high readmissions, negative outcomes and dissatisfaction. There’s also increased cost and increased risk,” noted Ms. Buckels during Social Determinants of Health: Using Empathy Interviewing To Help Care Teams Understand Factors Impacting Patient Health, a September 2017 webinar now available for rebroadcast.

To encourage individuals to open up about economic, educational, nutritional, or community deficits they face that drive 60 percent of their health outcomes, TAV Health recommends care teams employ empathy interviewing, also known as motivational interviewing (MI).

“With motivational interviewing, you’re entering into a relationship with a person, not as the expert, but as a partner coming alongside to help them find their own strengths, and affirming them as a person in order to affect positive change,” said Ms. Buckels. Her presentation included a review of the four core skills of motivational interviewing (“Listen for that positive nugget,” she urges), as well as ‘back pocket’ questions to ask when the conversation stalls.

Finally, she outlined traps for care teams to avoid during an MI session, such as the urge to give advice. “Always ask permission to give information or advice. Don’t just assume that’s something that you can do, because you’ve picked up the phone and called them.”

It may take time to master, but ultimately, motivational interviewing is more effective than healthcare’s typical “Chunk-Check-Change” education approach in transforming patient ambivalence and effecting positive behavior change, she said.

Information gleaned from motivational interviewing, even minor details like a patient’s nickname or the presence of a cherished pet, should become part of the patient’s record so that every person along the care continuum who ‘touches’ that patient can access it.

“For example, if a patient’s legal name is Charlene, but she goes by Michelle, if you really want to build a relationship with her and gain her trust, you start by calling her what she goes by, which is Michelle.”

In closing, Ms. Buckels outlined a patient-centric workflow connecting all supportive organizations, healthcare providers, community organizations and family and friends within the patient’s circle of care, which places more eyes and ears on the individual. With communal oversight to report anything worrisome, the likelihood is much less that a socially supported patient will visit the ER or be admitted to the hospital.

Listen to Cindy Buckels explain the advantages of motivational interviewing over the “Chunk-Check-Change” educational approach.

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