Patient Engagement: It's More Than You May Think

Patient engagement is a very popular term right now. But what exactly is it?

As part of Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements, healthcare organizations will be making important decisions about how to improve access to patient data using health information exchanges and online patient portals. However, successfully engaging patients and meeting the requirements may not be synonymous. To truly impact patient behavior and motivate positive health changes requires a comprehensive strategy for patient engagement that includes a thoughtful and tailored approach.

If you look at patient engagement service offerings, especially within electronic medical records (EMRs) and practice management systems, patient engagement is being defined as tools and resources that help patients keep track of appointments, billing, and their health records, including test results.  It’s important for providers and patients to be able to manage this information digitally, of course, but there’s so much more that’s needed if we really want to improve outcomes and make a positive impact.

According to a 2009 AARP study (“Chronic Care: A Call to Action for Health Reform”), the more engaged a patient was, the less likely they were to experience a negative health outcome such as re-admittance to the hospital or a medical error. This higher level of engagement, and the clear results, depends on rich and robust information, education and support, provided along the whole patient journey. The box checking that is inherent in new healthcare IT systems is simply not enough to deeply impact behavior, especially for complex chronic conditions.

In February, I attended the HIMSS conference in Orlando and listened to Joel Arker and Steven Roth from Pinnacle Health System talk about what an engaged patient looks like. I’ll share a slice of what they said:

1. Educated — they are educated enough to make reasonable tradeoffs and have meaningful discussions with friends, family, and healthcare professionals to own their own health

2. Personally responsible — they set goals for themselves and maintain those goals

3. Proactive — engaged patients become woven into a fabric of support systems that help and encourage them to meet their goals

4. Harness self-interest instincts — when diagnostics and treatments are recommended, individuals make conscious cost/value decisions based on targeted useful information.  

So how can providers help patients become more engaged? First, patients need appropriate education about their condition and its management, and ideally, healthcare providers should begin providing this information at a patient’s first visit and continue it throughout their care. Second, the care team should also be involved in the engagement process because shared decision-making is easier when everyone involved is on the same page. Healthcare providers can encourage this involvement by promoting open and honest communication about a patient’s preferences, their needs, and what works and what doesn’t.

This will not be a one-size-fits-all model. Successfully engaging a patient will depend on many factors such as age, gender, cultural background, education level, and fluency in English, not to mention health history, diagnosis, treatments, and preferences.

My vision of patient engagement features a tailored experience that includes the right content at the right time for the right person, building trust and a productive partnership between a healthcare provider, a patient, and the caregiving team. Access to billing and appointments is all well and good and will have a positive impact on the bottom line, but a patient provided with a personalized experience that includes relevant and robust education will no doubt improve outcomes and efficiencies at a much great rate. The truly engaged patient—one who is educated, motivated, and empowered to work with their healthcare team—will ultimately get the best results.

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2 comments about "Patient Engagement: It's More Than You May Think".
  1. Casey Quinlan from Mighty Casey Media LLC , March 31, 2014 at 10:44 a.m.
    How about we take the word "patient" out of the equation and just talk about engagement? To make that happen, adding human biology to the syllabus for primary education would be a great start. Also, recognizing that marketing *food* is also health/medical marketing (think of it as farm vs. pharm) could drive some REAL engagement ...
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 31, 2014 at 7:01 p.m.
    Casey, you make a mighty point that there must be a better way than just to lead the horses to water.