Hospitals need to have an open line of communication with patients and their families to provide the highest quality care. But in the chaos that comes with being sick, patients may forget to tell clinicians essential details about their health – or they may be too intimidated. 

Some hospitals have found a workaround to this dilemma by equipping patients with a tool that can essentially speak for them: a “patient passport.”

As described in an article from the Wall Street Journal, a patient passport contains information similar to what would appear in a medical record, such as medications and chronic conditions. However, it also has space for patients to fill in more personal information about how they manage their conditions.

And there’s an area for patients to list any questions and concerns, as well as their post-discharge goals for their health and quality-of-life.

Passport design

Currently, the patient passport is being used in hospitals through pilot programs by Planetree, a nonprofit group for hospitals whose goal is to help facilities provide more patient-centered care.

Hospitals affiliated with Planetree give the passports to certain types of patients to fill out when they’re admitted – and the information they provide is kept on file for future visits.

The passport is similar in design to one used in a children’s hospital in Los Angeles: Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. It was created in response to parental concerns that their children weren’t evaluated quickly enough before admission because they had health problems that weren’t as visible, and prolonged exposure to sick patients in a waiting room would make these problems worse.

The goal of the children’s hospital passport was to make sure clinicians knew everything about a child’s health conditions and corresponding needs upon arrival.

Now hospitals are testing whether passports can help adult patients in this regard, too.

Written in advance

In some cases, facilities may not even have to help patients make their own patient passports. Soon, patients may be admitted to your hospital with their  passports in tow, thanks to a mobile app developed at Johns Hopkins: Doctella.

The researcher who developed Doctella, Dr. Peter Pronovost, recently incorporated a patient passport in the app’s design. Patients can download Doctella free of charge onto a compatible tablet or smartphone. Then they can fill out the passport themselves in its entirety.

That way, if they’re ever hospitalized, or even if they’re visiting a primary care physician or specialist, their health information is available at their fingertips. Because of this, patients don’t have to worry about recalling as many details about their health on the spur of the moment during a hospital stay or office visit.

When created in advance, patient passports can also be useful for documenting patient preferences regarding end-of-life decisions.

One Connecticut hospital is working with community groups and senior centers to get elderly people to fill out a patient passport detailing their preferences for end-of-life care before they’re hospitalized. This takes the stress of decision making off families and clinicians if they’re admitted to a hospital down the line.

Stress-free communication

Whether it’s created in advance or at the beginning of a hospital stay, a patient passport may be just what hospitals need to keep the lines of communication open between clinicians and patients.

Patients can simply hand a doctor a passport, and the doctor will have a snapshot of a patient’s condition, as well as any concerns the person has – even if a patient is uncomfortable with addressing the doctor directly.

That makes it easier for clinicians to clear up misunderstandings that can jeopardize a patient’s health.

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