Which patient is likely to have the best outcome: The one who puts their health entirely in their doctor’s hands, or the one who is empowered to help manage their own health?
The answer may seem obvious. Patients who feel empowered to engage in their own healthcare are more likely to follow their treatment plans. And when patients take an active part in understanding their health conditions and in making treatment decisions, outcomes improve. This, in turn, leads to better outcomes for practices, as these patients are less likely to require unplanned doctor visits and hospitalizations.
Unfortunately, many patients don’t feel empowered to manage their health, maybe because they aren’t encouraged to ask questions, or because they don’t understand their condition, or because they don’t have the tools they need. And this problem can be especially true for patients with chronic health conditions, who may feel overwhelmed by their disease and its often-complicated treatment.
These patients are more likely to take an active role in managing their chronic health conditions if they understand how this involvement can help them.
The ideal provider-patient relationship can develop when providers counsel and engage with their patients and when the patients actively seek answers, and even ask new questions. Patient empowerment means redistributing the power between patients and physicians, so that patients are more engaged and more proactive in their encounters with health professionals. This, in turn, puts patients more in control over their own health. And because many patients look to their healthcare team as authoritative leaders, it would be incredibly meaningful if the motivation for self-management could be communicated directly from the professional to the patient and/or caregiver.
Here are some tips that can help healthcare professionals empower patients:
1. Encourage Questions
If a patient leaves your office with unanswered questions, the patient journey cannot move forward. To avoid this, healthcare providers must open up a dialogue with patients. To get the conversation started, put yourself in their shoes and prompt the patient with relevant questions. Your prompt could shed light on a question or concern that they may not even realize they have.
2. Make Action Plans
Keep patients involved in their treatment plans, explaining why they are necessary, what effects they will have, and what the long-term goals are. Involving the patients this way will show that you have confidence in them. More importantly, they will feel involved in the solution instead of fixated on the problem.
3. Use Tools And Education To Improve Medication Adherence And Accuracy
Healthcare technology allows patients to easily track their health conditions. Encourage your patients to use an app or a handheld symptom tracker to keep tabs on their symptoms, their state of mind, and any side effects from their medication.
4. Solicit Patient Feedback
Through a simple conversation or using survey and tracking tools, ask patients what they find helpful and how they view their relationship with you, and what they would change. Even just one patient’s feedback can be useful to a broader group or a community of patients facing similar issues.
5. Personalize Your Content
Often patients don’t fully listen to their doctor or nurse when sitting in the examining room, especially if they’ve received new information that may be confusing, shocking or involves a choice in treatment that needs to be made in the future. Finding ways to send your patients home with information that represents your personal treatment philosophy, perhaps even authored by you, can make a huge difference, helping patients feel more connected to you and your practice and extending the conversation beyond your interaction in the office. The result will be happier, more compliant patients, who have better outcomes and who are more likely to refer others to you and your practice.
The uncertainty that patients often experience when a healthcare decision needs to be made can be greatly relieved through participation. The patient journey is a full circle of treatment and feedback, repeated and hopefully made stronger over its course. We must use the technology available to learn from each patient’s journey and continually improve the process on a larger scale.
For folks with chronic health issues, one of the most empowering things a healthcare provider can do is to connect them with other people who have the same condition and are successfully dealing with it.
Most serious health issues have ramifications that are felt in every corner of the patient's life.
Medical info/advice is thus only part of the picture -- how to live successfully with this diagnosis is equally important. Restoring self-efficacy is key to patient empowerment.
It's not about support groups where they talk about how they feel -- it's about surrounding them with people with the same diagnosis who have practical tips and advice to offer and truly "get it."