What Is Whole-Person Care?

There are many aspects of life we just accept and try to live with. The traffic on our commute is frustrating, but if we turn on the radio, it becomes a little more bearable. Winter is cold and miserable, but if we put on enough layers, we should make it through in one piece. That “grin and bear it” mindset works for the mundane and temporary things in life, but it should not be applied to experiences that are truly important. 

Unfortunately, we have been forced to adopt this perspective with the many things that our healthcare system lacks. This current system isn’t our only option, however, and concepts like whole-person care can revolutionize the system and our interactions with it.

The Current System and What’s Missing

Our experience with healthcare tends to be fragmented and drawn out, particularly when our needs are complex. For example, you might go to your primary care doctor for occasional chest pain. In the office, your heart sounds just fine, but she refers you to the hospital to have some tests done. The hospital has openings for those tests at the end of next week, leaving you to wait over a week. Once they are done, your physician refers you to a cardiologist who is booked for two months. You take the earliest appointment even though that means taking time off work. 

All this time, your symptoms are getting worse, and you debate going to the emergency room. You decide not to, partially because your physician doesn’t think it’s anything serious but mostly because you don’t have the money to spend on a hospital visit. When you finally see the cardiologist, he examines you and asks you about your lifestyle. Upon telling him about your job and constant stress, the cardiologist rules out any heart issues and determines your symptoms are linked to anxiety. He gives you a list of counselors in the area, and you start calling around to find one. After an hour or so of searching, you finally end up on a weeks-long waitlist.

This is not everyone’s experience, but it is not uncommon. When people ask for help, they do not want to wait; in some cases, they simply cannot. Our current system looks at isolated symptoms and complaints and often neglects the many parts of a person, thereby missing more nuanced aspects of their health that could be contributing to their current presentation. 

This fragmentation is especially notable in the separation of behavioral healthcare from the rest of healthcare. Many people utilize their primary care provider as the first point of care for mental health concerns, and integrated systems should be in place to provide timely help and individualized attention to these patients. 

The 4 Domains of Whole-Person Care

Whole-person care is the alternative to the current healthcare system. It takes into account a person’s mental well-being, social health, spiritual beliefs, and environment. These metrics are combined with information about a person’s physical health to create a comprehensive view of their health. Even if a person’s heart is beating just fine and their lungs are functioning as they should, a person can be unhealthy in the other domains of their life. 

In fact, it is estimated that 80% of a person’s health is contingent on factors outside of the healthcare context. Instead of honing in on that 20%, we need to expand our view to the bigger picture. In this context, health looks like the following:

  • Having appropriate cognition and emotional well-being
  • Living in a safe environment with access to shelter, healthy food, and areas to exercise and spend time outside
  • Having a religious or secular belief system that provides comfort and meaning
  • Having supportive social relationships
 

Implementing Whole-Person Care

It might seem impossible to uproot the entire healthcare system and replace it. Fortunately, that is not the solution. All of the pieces are already there; they just need to be connected in a new, more effective way. 

Currently, the patient often has to coordinate their own services by seeking out different professionals to meet their needs. A whole-person care approach would better facilitate a team approach where the different providers treating a patient communicate with one another to provide uniform and comprehensive care. Having care navigators or coordinators who assist in making these connections takes the burden off the patient. These coordinators can also connect the patient to necessary resources outside of the healthcare setting, including housing and employment assistance.

Housing multiple specialties within one building can make the referral process more natural. In the above example of the person presenting with chest pain, having a cardiologist available for an assessment as well as a behavioral health professional onsite for a mental health evaluation would have saved that patient months of struggling. This model would be especially helpful in connecting patients to mental health resources. Through a “warm hand-off,” a primary care provider can refer a patient to a mental health professional, and during that same appointment, the patient can start the intake and assessment process that would have otherwise potentially taken weeks.

 

Whole-person care is the next frontier in healthcare. Providing a continuum of care from admission to discharge and beyond will set your organization apart. Lightning Step has an All-In-One system that will make data sharing among various specialties and departments fast and easy. Our solution combines an Electronic Medical Record (EMR), Revenue Cycle Management (RCM), and Customer Relation Management (CRM) in one integrated platform. Data entered anywhere in the system will automatically be threaded to other relevant points in the system without the need for repeated data entry. The time you save on data management can be used to collaborate with colleagues and provide exemplary patient care. Contact us at (833) 957-2888 for a demo today.

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