As we continue our multi-week series called What Patients Really Want, I must admit the topic we’re covering this week, patient engagement, is especially intriguing to me for a couple of reasons.
One: there’s mass amounts of research out there on the matter and it seems to be quite the hot button issue.
Two: the related trends have drastically evolved over the years and at a very rapid pace recently. What’s desirable and even expected today by patients was wildly rejected in the not too distant past.
We kicked off this series discussing the patient’s desire to have the ability to see their provider when needed, specifically we examined the need for physician practices to provide adequate acute access. Last week we dove into lagniappe (sounds like lan-yap), the patient’s desire for excellent customer service, and the need for healthcare organizations to go above and beyond patient expectations. (1)
This week we’re tackling the rapidly expanding, hot button topic of patient engagement.
What Do YOU Think?
I’d like to start by sharing a recent experience I had in a local walk-in clinic.
In the days prior to visiting the walk-in clinic, I had been suffering from a bad head cold. I decided to “ride it out” until things took a turn for the worse one night. I’ve lived with asthma since I was young and although it’s under control ninety percent of the time, there are those few moments that pop up every now and then that warrant a trip to the doctor. This particular night I had woken up several times short of breath and wheezing, with no relief from my rescue inhaler. I knew I probably needed an oral steroid from similar past experiences.
The next morning I called my asthma and allergy specialist to make an appointment quickly.
Unfortunately, his office did not have any available appointments in the near future. (That particular misfortune would be better addressed in a previously published blog titled, What Patients Really Want: Healthcare Accessibility, but I digress).
I was greatly disappointed – I had hoped to see my doctor who knew me and my medical history. Yet, I knew I needed professional care quickly, so I decided to visit a local walk-in clinic.
I arrived that morning with low expectations and assumed I would need to “plead my case” to this unfamiliar, disinterested, skeptical, and overwhelmed doctor (especially considering it was during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic).
I had a heaping portion of “humble pie” as I quickly realized all of my negative assumptions were very incorrect.
The doctor I saw was kind, compassionate, curious, knowledgeable, and very helpful. She was very thorough in her exam, taking her time to ask all the necessary questions and listened intently as I answered. After doing so, she invited me into the decision-making process by asking, “What do you think you need? You probably know what works best to treat your asthma.”
I was pleasantly shocked. After I told her I thought I needed an oral steroid, she agreed.
From start to finish, that appointment far exceeded my expectations and to be brutally honest, I had a better healthcare experience from that walk-in clinic than I usually receive from my asthma and allergy specialist.
My point is this: patient engagement is important. From the patient perspective, feeling heard, valued, and trusted by your healthcare provider is important to every patient. As a healthcare organization, it’s important to learn about your patients and engage them in a way that makes them feel valued, cared for, and involved in their treatment and wellness plan.
A Healthier Patient
Let’s unpack exactly what patient engagement means.
I like Evariant’s definition best: “Patient engagement involves encouraging patients in their own care to help improve health outcomes, drive better patient care, and achieve lower costs. It combines a patient’s knowledge, skills, ability, and willingness to manage their own care with communications designed to promote positive behaviors. Patients want to be engaged in their healthcare decision-making process, and those who are engaged in their care tend to be healthier.”(2)
Basically, patient engagement is when a patient actively participates in their healthcare planning, working with their healthcare providers to understand and improve their health.
In addition, we know from substantial research that a patient’s engagement does indeed result in a healthier patient.
Spectrio published an article highlighting this and states,“In a study conducted by NEJM Catalyst, healthcare providers reported ‘that their patient engagement initiatives are having a major impact (14%) to moderate impact (34%) on quality outcomes.’” (3)
An engaged patient is often healthier than they would have been had they not participated in, and indeed partnered with their healthcare team to improve and maintain their health.
Perhaps all the controversy around the topic is a result of the wide ranging and ever-evolving opinions on the matter.
Let’s first address the topic from the viewpoint of the healthcare provider.
Health Trust published a very informative article titled “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: The Challenges of Patient Engagement Across the Generations,” and quotes Vinitia Mathews, Ph.D., director of Patient Experience for LifePoint Health:
“In the past, they [providers] approached patients from the vantage point of all-knowing experts as if to say: ‘We are going to make you feel better. We are going to heal you. We know what is best for you clinically.’ Today, however, patients and their families are welcomed into the healthcare decision-making process as partners.” (4)
Furthermore, research shows that patients’ opinions regarding their engagement has fluctuated throughout the years, but there are noticeable patterns based on their ages and generations. Here’s a quick snapshot.
1. Silent Generation, or Traditionalists (born before 1946)
Tend to be deferential to physician authority. Whatever their doctor says goes.
2. Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
Tend to interact with their providers and value their opinions, but also want to do some of their own research. A patient-provider partnership is expected.
3. Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980)
Tend to assume their providers are knowledgeable, but also tend to actively pursue more information about their own health. Gen Xers may be more likely to challenge treatment plans.
4. Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000)
Tend to use technology as part of their healthcare experience, and they value efficiency and convenience. They also tend to be the lowest utilizers of traditional healthcare. A good walk-in facility, as I described above, staffed with compassionate providers is often preferred. If the traditional physician practice is not delivering the convenience and efficiency millennials so highly value, this age group WILL seek alternatives.
Different but the Same
ECG Management Consultant’s published an article recently that sums up these differences nicely by stating, “Healthcare organizations should keep in mind that a one-size-fits-all approach to patient engagement will not be successful. It is important to understand and address patients’ generational preferences and to recognize that what they want and expect from providers will differ by age…although patient engagement shares the same goals across all age groups, how it is understood and achieved varies greatly for different generations.” (5)
While the opinions of what patient engagement should look like greatly vary, the end goal of a healthier patient and quality patient care is the same across the board.
Technology is a huge part of our daily lives; patients’ healthcare is no exemption. If used wisely, it can be a very helpful and powerful tool.
Healthcare IT News published an article in January in which author Nathan Eddy sets the scene by writing, “The recent growth in virtualized patient engagement, such as contacting a doctor through a mobile app, has created unprecedented access to healthcare providers and opened the floodgates for patients to initiate contact.” (6)
Healthcare organizations now have numerous opportunities to engage their patients using technology from apps that track daily food intake, to patient portals, and virtual appointment scheduling. These are just a few ways for patients to proactively and preventatively take ownership of their health, in cooperation with their healthcare provider.
Patients want to be involved in the decision-making process when it comes to their healthcare; yet there’s often a miscommunication and/or misunderstanding between the patient and their provider that prevents this from happening.
Speaking from a patient perspective, I respectfully encourage all healthcare professionals to better identify your patients’ desires and needs. Ensure you “speak their language” to enhance patient engagement.
Your practice, and your patients’ health will greatly benefit from staying focused on patient engagement.
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Jerry L. Stone
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