By asking most people on the street if they are interested in taking care of themselves and if they would like to be more involved in the process, you’d find that a majority do.  So, what is inhibiting patient engagement from being at the forefront of patient care?

Are Patients Really Engaged?

All too often doctors are working off the premise that patients are already engaged in their own healthcare, but the fact is that patients are feeling like there is a gulf of information out of their reach.  The doctor is acting more as a gatekeeper rather than a sounding board with access to answers.  Some of this might stem from the fact that this was how it used to be done and it seemed to work back then.  However, it isn’t working on many levels.  The lack of information doesn’t serve any good purpose except to create a gap between doctor and patient, especially in an age where information is at our fingertips.

Is it Good for Patients to be Engaged?

With very few exceptions, most of us want to be in the best health possible, and to make decisions that will lead to the least amount of medical intervention.  We also pride ourselves on making these decisions with as much information and insight as we can possibly take in.  Likewise, with few exceptions, doctors would prefer that most of us were engaged with our own healthcare, but have reservations due to the fact that some patients will choose contrary to medical advice or a number of other reasons.  Practicing medicine might be a whole lot easier if it weren’t for the patients, but patients do have the right to select or refuse care that will keep them healthy.  The level of patient engagement will always be determined by the patient.

Announcement of the Engagement

Communicating is one of the largest factors necessary for patient engagement in healthcare, but also seems to be lacking in too many doctor/patient relations.  This isn’t as simple as saying that a doctor should speak more clearly to the patient and the patient should listen better.  There are many types of communication and many hindrances that lead to bad communication.  Assumptions are made on both sides that understanding won’t be reached, this information can be withheld.  Bad news seems to bring out the worst in all of us, but without the whole picture and a level head, incorrect decisions can be made.  There is more than one way to connect to one another and it doesn’t have to be an office visit.

Many doctors may feel like they are the bad guys in this situation, but it may not fall on the head of just one or two people but the system as a whole.  There are situations that require many healthcare professionals to be involved, and they are usually not located at a single office, clinic or hospital.  Patient engagement may be difficult due to the fact that patient information is spread out and is not interconnected in any way.  The diffusion isn’t any one person’s fault but has a propensity to:

  • Lead to duplication of tests or procedures
  • Broken up data
  • Improper care
  • Delay care
  • Lose patients within the system

Eliminating the tendency to not share information between providers doesn’t serve any good purposes and cost time, energy and money for everyone. 

Leverage Data to Improve Quality of Care and Engagement

We live in the age of technology. From apps on smartphones that track physical activity to kiosks at local retailers that measure blood pressure, technology is everywhere. Patients and physicians must leverage technology to improve the quality of care, healthy populations, and lower the costs of healthcare.

Within your practice, utilizing data helps you and your team deliver patient-centered care, decisions rooted in evidence-based practices, and realize economies of scale. Your first step is to improve your data quality and use it effectively. Your practice must collect meaningful information that affects outcomes. With more information, you can personalize care for your patients with little effort, demonstrating to your patients you care. Much like the follow-up phone calls of the past, personalized care will help you motivate your patients to become more active when it comes to their health.

It’s important to use the information you collect from patients. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) recommends creating policies to support your new efforts to improve engagement and creating a central, yet convenient location for receiving and processing information patients submit. By establishing a central location, your practice streamlines the process and reduces the time they spend on administrative tasks.

Patient Engagement in Theory Only

As most anyone in any industry can tell you: technology leads to more paperwork.  Many doctors work diligently to see as many patients as possible throughout the day, but after-hours face a mountain of paperwork that has been generated.  Unfortunately, most of that paperwork cannot be avoided as there are reporting factors and agencies that require more work, research and time.  The only viable solution to this is to become more organized as the body. 

No one likes to be accused of providing bad information or misinforming those around them.  However, the consequences that might be involved when it comes to misstatements can lead a doctor to hold onto information until they feel more comfortable or sure.  Bad data exists everywhere, but a telemarketer having your phone number listed twice doesn’t affect you as much as a doctor prescribing the wrong medicine.

More often than not, it isn’t so much incorrect information doctors deal with but out of date data that requires extra effort to work with.  If doctors and their offices are forced to track down dated information or are working off of it, efforts and energies are being utilized very inefficiently.  Bad information in any form is costly in many respects. 

Patient Engagement with Technology

The old ways of doing things in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital are not sufficient for many patients.  Many instances don’t require a patient to be in a physical office to have diagnosed and treatments recommended.  Most doctor’s offices don’t fill out prescriptions on notepads but forward it to a pharmacy electronically.  Follow-ups with patients can be done by email, texts or instant messaging, which takes much less resources.  These may be a thing of the past, too, as new apps, technology and forward thinking become routine in the healthcare industry. 

To be Engaged or Not to be, That is the Question

Truly, most patients are already primed and prepared to be engaged in their own healthcare issues, and fear or anything similar should not be an excuse to hold back from patient engagement when it comes to medical professionals.  Both parties – patient and professionals – need to venture out of from behind old stereotypes and into a new kind of relationship that involves better care for everyone.

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