ASCP Patient Champions: Patient Advocacy and Education through Understanding the Role of the Laboratory in Patient Care.

The American Society for Clinical Pathology’s (ASCP) Patient Champions program uses real-life examples from a diverse group of patients to educate new patients about specific types of diagnostics, laboratory tests, and pathology follow up so that they can better understand the reason for the test, what the results mean, and feel more confident about engaging with their physician on appropriate next steps.  Why does this build trustworthiness?  Educating patients about the crucial role the laboratory plays in patient care and helping patients understand their diagnoses and lab results increases collaboration and trust between patients and their health care practitioners, including pathologists and laboratory professionals.

How It Works

ASCP’s Patient Champions program empowers patients by educating them about diagnostics, laboratory tests, and pathology follow up care using real-life stories from a diverse group of patients, our Patient Champions. By educating patients about the crucial role the laboratory plays in patient care and helping patients understand their diagnoses and lab results, the patient-health care practitioner trust and collaboration increases.
Through ASCP’s Patient Champions program, patients, advocates, and caregivers receive information about how pathology and laboratory medicine is involved in their care. Specifically, Patient Champions’ resources explain why and how certain tests are performed, why they are important, and what the results mean. The program’s educational flyers describe laboratory tests associated with specific diagnoses or conditions, such as prostate diseases and diabetes.

As both patients and healthcare practitioners adapt to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has provided information on how the laboratory plays a critical role in ensuring that patients continue to receive high-quality care.
Initiatives around this topic involve sharing stories and creating educational content about COVID-19. The materials include information about testing methods, risk in specific populations and how the virus affects those with existing chronic or cancer diagnoses.

Educating patients about pathology as the cornerstone of medicine through real-life patient stories increases trust, transparency, confidence, and understanding of the entire health care system. Patients who are educated about their diagnoses and prognoses and who advocate for their own health care decisions have higher levels of trust with their practitioners.

Skills and Competencies

The practice relies on clear and effective communication and the ability to empower others as the main skills and competencies for the pathologist and laboratory professional. The ASCP Patient Champions program has created resources to help medical laboratory personnel speak to patients about their diagnoses and laboratory results more effectively. On the patient side, the educational materials are developed using easy to understand terms, descriptions, and graphics. The program also shares patient stories by creating videos that highlight collaboration between the patient and their healthcare team showcasing how their understanding of laboratory results empowered them to make informed health decisions.

Origins

Despite pathology and laboratory medicine’s critical role in high-quality patient care, many patients are unaware of the field’s value and how laboratory practitioners are essential members of the health care team. Timely and accurate diagnostics are necessary to treat and cure patients from illnesses and conditions. When patients don’t understand the role of pathology and laboratory medicine, they are less likely to advocate for themselves and to trust the overall healthcare system. If patients don’t know which tests are ordered and why, they are not as likely to take an active role in their care or the care of others. Healthcare is a collaborative environment that centers around the patient. The more we educate and empower patients, the higher quality care we all create together.

As COVID-19 continues to be a major health crisis around the world, it’s important that the public, especially patients, understand the laboratory’s role in their healthcare now more than ever. ASCP Patient Champions saw this as an opportunity to communicate the vital role of the lab and highlight the many areas it’s involved in during the crisis such as COVID testing, blood donation, and yielding lab results that guide treatment decisions for patients and physicians.

Effectiveness

The ASCP Patient Champions program has received and collected qualitative and quantitative evidence that the program is effective in increasing awareness of pathology and laboratory medicine. In February 2020, the program launched a survey to those who have interacted with ASCP Patient Champions, including patients, advocacy partners, and board members.

Qualitative evidence suggests that the Patient Champions educational resources increase trust between patients and the overall health care system and that the educational resources for patients and the community are the best aspect of the program. Sharing patient stories highlighting the role of the laboratory was also indicated as an effective resource that builds understanding of how pathology and lab professionals work as a team to deliver high-quality patient care.

Quantative evidence collected shows that 65% of survey respondents understood the impact of pathology and laboratory medicine on their overall health due to their engagement with the program, 63% of respondents indicated that resources available on the program’s website were somewhat to very useful, and 83% indicated that the overall content on the website was useful. Overall, the more educated patients are about the laboratory and its impact on their health care, the more they will trust the healthcare system.

Scalability

The practice is scalable and available for any patient, health care practitioner, advocate, or institution interested in furthering patient education. All resources are available on-line, and multiple partner organizations use the ASCP Patient Champions materials to empower their patients and constituents. Educational materials and resources are also made available at patient advocacy events that the ASCP Patient Champions program participates in, including virtual cancer conferences and disease-specific advocacy events. The program is continuously exploring partnership opportunities with institutions in an effort to make educational materials widely available to patients at locations where they are seeking care.