June 2016

Teaching About Patients With Complexity

When the standard approach to diagnosing and caring for a patient doesn’t work, by definition, that patient is complex. However, many teachers and preceptors understandably focus on the standard treatment of conditions without teaching their learners how to identify and manage complexity in an individual. To provide the best patient care and outcomes, learners need to be taught how to manage the complex patients that they will so frequently encounter. The Patient Centered Assessment Method (PCAM), formerly known as the Minnesota Complexity Assessment Method (MCAM), is one effective tool for defining patient and system complexity.

As a framework for assessing and discussing complex patients, the PCAM divides complexity into three main domains. These are as follows:

  • Health & Wellbeing (lifestyle behaviors, impact of their physical health on their mental health, their ability to enjoy daily activities)
  • Social Environment (status of employment, housing, transportation, social networks)
  • Health Literacy and Communication (understanding of their symptoms and risk factors, language and cultural differences, learning difficulties)

By using this framework to conduct an assessment of the patient, learners are guided through summarizing any actions that are needed to address patient complexity. Click here to learn more about how to use the PCAM tool with your learners.

Take a look at these related pages on TeachingPhysician.org:

This material was partly adapted from an STFM Education Column by Justin Osborn, MD, and Allison Cole, MD, titled “Teaching About Patients with Complexity,” published January 2014.