How to Support Patient Engagement
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How to Support Patient Engagement

I recently got this email from a colleague on our Language of Caring® team:

Wendy,
I wanted to let you know that working for Language of Caring has helped me as a patient. I have Crohn’s, which can be set off by stress. Recently, while organizing a family vacation, I started feeling a bit off. I’d read LOC material about patient engagement. So, rather than just hoping for the best (as I would have done previously), I made an appointment with my doctor. We discussed diet and stress-relief techniques, and he gave me a prescription to take with me. Instead of being sick on my vacation in Italy, I was able to enjoy it—including the pasta and gelato! Thanks!

Personal stories like the one above show that patients who take an active role in their healthcare have more positive outcomes. Recent research consistently finds that patients’ knowledge, skills and confidence in managing their health and care directly affect measurable issues such as hospitalization, readmission rates, emergency department visits, and adoption of healthy behaviors (i.e. quitting smoking, undergoing screenings, taking prescribed medications, staying on a recommended diet). Plus, it is the patient’s right to ask questions, voice opinions, and take part in decisions regarding his or her care. Engaged patients tend to feel better physically and more in control emotionally; their healthcare costs are lower; relationships with their caregivers improve. Everyone benefits.

We know that healthcare professionals should support patients’ active participation in their own health care.  How can we help our patients take an informed and active role?

A first step is to assess a patient’s level of engagement. For example, the widely used Patient Activation Measure ranks patients according to four levels: 1) Disengaged and overwhelmed; 2) Becoming aware but still struggling; 3) Taking action; and 4) Maintaining behaviors and pushing further.

Then, for each patient, the physician may encourage the next, reasonable step. For some patients this may mean helping them become aware of the possibility and value of taking an active role in their own care. Other patients may need to build the knowledge, skills, and confidence which make taking an active role possible. Those who are already actively involved need support and encouragement to continue and expand their participation.

Here are a few practical tips to help patients engage:

Since patients often feel overwhelmed, afraid, and intimidated, it is up to us to encourage them to ask questions, offer their thoughts, and take part in developing their get-well action plan. Engaged patients are more likely to commit and follow through.  The result:  They are healthier and happier.

I welcome your comments below.

Categories: Patient Experience Strategies, Patient-Family Engagement

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