We can all agree that empowering patients to engage in their healthcare is a good thing. Improving patients’ understanding of their disease and health so they take a more active role in their healthcare has been shown to lead to better health outcomes and reduced costs.
But patients are individuals with different needs and issues, and engaging them may not be as simple as it looks on paper.
Following are four common barriers to patient engagement and what healthcare providers can do to overcome them.
1. Patients get too much information at one time and feel overwhelmed.
Patient engagement centers on the relationship between the patient and the physician. This relationship can be more powerful than either side may realize. For instance, a Surgeon General’s report showed that a physician simply telling a patient to stop smoking can increase smoking cessation rates 5-10%.
Keeping this relationship in mind, healthcare providers should focus on one part of disease prevention or treatment (for example, diet or exercise) and educate the patient on that single health behavior at one time. It’s only one step, but it can help change the direction of a patient’s long-term health and risk profile.
2. Patients are given too many choices and then asked to make decisions on the spot.
To help patients better understand decision-making elements like risk or outcomes, healthcare providers should use terms that patients are familiar with and offer examples. It’s also a good idea to ask patients at the outset what level of involvement they are comfortable with when making decisions.
Healthcare providers may also want to put a system in place that provides patients with decision-making help—whether as part of an online group of patients or one that meets in person at the doctor’s office.
3. Patients are not willing or able to learn more on their own.
Patients feel more confident taking part in their healthcare when they know more about it. To help them accomplish this, healthcare providers need to be able to connect patients with materials that they can access and understand easily. How this is done will vary among patients, with some wanting information electronically, and others preferring print materials.
Getting a caregiver or other loved ones involved can help patients be more willing to try lifestyle changes or treatments. Family and friends may also be able to provide ideas on how to communicate better with a patient who is having trouble understanding your instructions.
4. Patients are elderly, and do not have access to a computer/the Internet/a smartphone.
According to a report by the Center for Advancing Health, just 30% of elderly people feel motivated and knowledgeable enough to participate in their own healthcare. One possible reason for this is that technology can be intimidating to those who don’t use it regularly.
Explain to elderly patients that using computers as part of the exam can help keep track of information. One helpful practice is to include the patient in the information collection process. Let them see the screen as you type, and show them their lab results and imaging tests firsthand, to help them become a little more comfortable with technology.
There is no universal approach to patient engagement. What works for a mobile-savvy person will not work for someone who has never used technology. Multiple approaches are needed to make an impact with these different groups. Regardless of how you decide to provide information, keep in mind that it only takes a few minutes to show a patient that you care about them and are interested in engaging them in their healthcare.