An Enhanced Approach to Patient Engagement

An Enhanced Approach to Patient Engagement

Patient engagement has long been recognized to be an essential element of high-quality healthcare services.  Over the years, studies have shown there to be a direct correlation between the level of a patient's engagement in their healthcare and their health outcome and costs incurred for care.  Generally speaking, “patient engagement” is a broad concept that combines patient activation with provider-initiated interventions that are designed to increase that activation and promote an increase in positive patient behavior. The 2013 report from the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) found that patients who were engaged in their own care reported an overall higher quality of care with fewer errors.  Further, it’s been concluded that increased patient engagement has a positive impact on overall health outcomes, medication adherence and lower hospital admission rates.

Traditionally, clinicians have played a central role in helping patients understand and make informed decisions about their health. Unfortunately, the undeniable challenges clinicians face may inadvertently limit a patient’s willingness or ableness to become active participants in their own healthcare. As a result of this fundamental aperture, public and private health care organizations have been trying to develop new strategies to better engage their patients while concurrently relieving the systematic burdens placed upon providers. As many healthcare professionals will attest, patient engagement is one cornerstone needed to achieve the "triple aim" of improved health outcomes, better patient care, and lower costs.

 

Effectuating such change has always presented many hurdles for patients and providers alike. Patient facing factors such as health literacy, access to and understanding of technology driven applications, realizing the limitations of clinicians and mitigating potential misinformation sought from outside sources (i.e. “Dr. Google”) have been some of the first challenges to overcome.  From the clinical side, it’s equally essential for providers to recognize the advantages of understanding people’s experience of their unique situation and illness and understand how equipped they feel to take responsibility for managing aspects of their own care. 

It has been my experience that both patients and providers are initially reluctant to adopt change.  However, the global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 forced us to tackle these hesitations in the most aggressive of fashions.  In many situations, out of sheer necessity and with little to no preconceived plan in place, we as a medical community banded together and adapted like we never have before.  Tents became emergency departments, cars were waiting rooms, and video conferencing became the primary means of communicating with patients and families.  We proved we can adapt and change quickly. The key now is to be thoughtful about coming out of the pandemic and using what we learned to advance the way we deliver care. 

Furthermore, the pandemic has forced patients, who may have otherwise been reluctant to such change, to re-examine their role in managing their healthcare. We now have first-hand knowledge that patients are clearly more receptive to receiving care differently, and providers need to understand the importance of capitalizing on that opportunity.  Current delivery systems limit patients’ involvement by neglecting to provide people with information of their own medical results and conditions and other important clinical data. Having such information would improve patients’ ability to not only manage their own health issues but also help in the coordination of their care.  Caregivers are uniquely positioned to facilitate this change and develop new delivery models to ensure high quality and efficient patient engagement evaluation tools.  By utilizing technology like remote patient monitoring, remote symptoms checkers, and tools that allow you to ensure that patients are following through with their discharge plan, we can make a significant improvement in the way all patients are cared for.  I believe that the next few years will show that providers who maintain focus upon making improvements in patient engagement and invest in modern technologies that are designed to encourage such engagement, will be much more equipped to strengthen their practices and see an improvement on patient outcomes and satisfaction.

As studies have shown, compelling benefits can be derived from establishing effective partnerships among patients, families, communities, and healthcare organizations.  Concurrently, increased engagement at all levels will result in reduced costs and avoid wasting resources on well-intentioned but poorly designed initiatives that are destined to fail because they do not properly address the varying needs of patients.  Even small gains for individual patients, when repeated across hundreds of millions of people, would translate into major advances for better and more cost-effective ways of delivering healthcare in the face of rising demand and shrinking budgets.

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