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Written by Clinical Variation

It doesn’t matter what product or service you may references, there is always someone out there that has a complaint about it.  Some things actually warrant some criticisms, such as airport security or lead paint covered children’s’ toys.  One sector that has made significant improvements over the years, yet still lags behind in many respects is the healthcare industry.  One of the largest areas of discrepancies has to do with clinical variations and it is why many patients seek multiple opinions in hope of finding some consensus.  Read more about this specific subject: https://www.healthcatalyst.com/role-clinical-variation-medical-practice.

 

Variations are a part of human nature; some of this helps to provide creativity, some provides unwanted discrepancies that are hard to make up for.  The last place you want widely varying attitudes is when it comes to your health.  Additionally, the healthcare industry, as well as government agencies that are involved with healthcare decisions, also dislike this gap, including the inconsistency with cost related to care.  So, what are some of the factors that make up this problem, and what are things that can be done to remedy it?

 

May I have another?

Going back to the concept of wanting or needing second opinions, the patient population has felt the effect of pay-for-service mentality that many healthcare providers used to work under; that is, the provider received payment for the number of services given, not necessary on the outcome of the patient.  This particular practice has been curbed and providers are now reimbursed based on outcomes not number of services.  But this information is slow to filter to the public, and the general tradition of seeking another’s view isn’t such a bad one. 

 

Depending on the background and experience that a physician has can greatly influence their knowledge base.  Also, the willingness of a physician to seek out further knowledge and understanding can play a great deal into information that is handed down to the patient.  Some of this knowledge is becoming more a matter of computer output rather than internal studying; with the advancement of database and healthcare input, healthcare professionals are now able to pull up a patient’s electronic record and receive recommendations for that specific patient due to a computer comparison of other patients with similar histories and current symptoms.  This can take some of the guesswork out of diagnosing and treating a patient, but still requires the decrement that can only happen with human interpretations. 

 

As time goes on and patients begin to see that initial assessments and first opinions are hitting the mark, the practice of seeking out many other viewpoints will become a thing of the past.  Th healthcare industry is working hard to not only be more accurate, but to reduce the time, money and effort that is spent by both patients and professionals in the pursuit of better health and more positive outcomes.

 

Trifecta, man!

Variations come down to understand where and why things are different.  A hospital in Maine may be diagnosing and treating the same kinds of patients with the same sorts of illness and Southern California, but the costs can differ widely due simply to the way each healthcare organization runs their facilities.  If one is more effective in controlling their costs and managing their organization, while the other is still working at discovering where inefficiencies lie in the routines, then the total cost of care could very easily be seen. 

 

The need for healthcare organizations to weed out problematic practices will ultimately lead to a reduction and limitation in variation attributed to:

 

  • Improvement to overall quality of care
  • Increased efficiency both visible and not visible to patients
  • Increased patient perception and experience

 

In my humble opinion …

Referencing again the fact that experience and exposure to specific situations will give each physician a little bit different slant on the way he or she approaches a diagnosis.  And, though most of us would love to think of ourselves as completely unique, when it comes to receiving care, we are quite a bit alike.  This helps the medical community in the respect that they are able to put a patient on a pathway that not only takes much of the guesswork that might be involved with care and directives, but also enables the patient to be an active part of their care, especially in the respect that he or she will know what to expect and how to follow through. 

 

Without a doubt, there are always cases that are unique, have differing symptoms, require more attention or are totally new to the healthcare industry.  Putting these individuals on a pathway could be impossible, however, this is not the norm.  When a patient is put on a pathway, not only does this help the treating physician to aid the patient more quickly, but this also helps to reduce the time and effort that might be going in to reinventing the wheel – that is to say: if a patient exhibits the same symptoms, and if test prove that he or she is troubled with an illness that has a proven track record of treatments, why are doctors not following an established route of care and follow-up?  The expended resources are not easing the demands and may actually prolong a patient’s suffering.

 

It goes without saying that healthcare is a very complex and in-demand industry that has seen some technological growth and advancements, and yet still needs a shot to the arm to push them farther ahead.  It’s no doubt that at some point in our life we will be a patient, whether it be for a severe illness or broken bone, and we each want a good outcome to be the end result.  There are many in the healthcare industry that are working hard to eliminate the wasted time and resources, find better ways to provide care, bring the overall costs of care down and help patients when they are in need (no matter what that need might be).  As they reduce the amount of clinical variations that occur, the more that we as patients will see an improvement to the overall system and benefit from its changes.