Patient Engagement: 101
Patient engagement is a new term in the health media but in simple words it is nothing more than developing better relationships with patients. There has been a steady deterioration of the patient physician relationship over the past few decades. Many consumers are also disheartened by conventional medicine therapies and they have turned to alternative care in droves. While in some cases the fault is due to the patient not understanding the medical process, healthcare workers are also responsible for the decline in this relationship. So how does the healthcare industry win back patients?
There is now solid evidence that people who actively engage in their healthcare tend to have not only better outcomes but also lower costs than those who do not. Patient engagement is just one strategy aimed at achieving better healthcare outcomes; improve quality of care and much lower costs. As a result of these findings, many healthcare institutions and healthcare professional are utilizing newer strategies to engage patients. In most cases, the aim is to involve patients in making healthcare decisions and educate them about their medical conditions.
However, patient engagement is not straight forward and there are many obstacles that need to be overcome. Some obstacles are attributed to patient characteristics and others to the healthcare providers. Patient factors that may not make engagement easy include the degree of health literacy, culture, age, personal beliefs, etc. The only way round this is for healthcare institutions to educate their patients. Healthcare factors that have made patient engagement include too many patients and too little time, other demands in healthcare, lack of reimbursements, etc. In a country like the USA, there are people from many diverse backgrounds. These individuals come from different cultures; have different values and religious beliefs. Many immigrants have strong affiliation with alternative healthcare and they are also very superstitious. They are also paranoid about conventional medicine.
So how do we engage patients?
Now that healthcare is undergoing revolution with the introduction of electronic technology, many healthcare organizations have started using patient portal and apps device to link to patients. Today apps devices can let patients know the waiting times in the emergency room, the time the doctor will be back in the clinic, their hospital bill, and there is also ample education information about many medical disorders. However, the use of electronic device assumes that the patient is versed in this technology and will also be using it. While younger people do use electronic devices they don’t make up the majority of patients in hospitals.
Doctors and healthcare organizations are also making great effort to educate patients online and offline. Some are using leaflets and brochures as well as having website to engage patients Unfortunately one major complaint by patients is that it is not the lack of medical information that is the problem; it is the difficulty in accessing a healthcare provider or getting timely services that are the key problems. Patients complain that there is ample medical information online and they do not need anymore- they just want to speak to a healthcare provider. Even making an appointment to see a healthcare provider requires time and effort-primarily because the system is so bureaucratic. Even when electronic means of patient engagement are employed, patients complain that physicians rarely respond and almost never return their phone calls,
Another area where patient engagement is lacking is with the caregivers; close to 93 million friends and family look after someone they love and yet these caregivers are treated as nonentities by the healthcare system. When these caregivers ask questions on behalf of their loved ones, the usual rhetoric about confidentiality is stated and information is not provided.
In addition, the majority of patients in the US are the elderly who make up close to 70% of patients with chronic disorders. Many of these patients have varying degrees of cognitive deficits and most have never used a mobile phone, let alone an android. How can technology help to engage such patients? Sure it is not via electronics. These patients need direct physician contact and communication.
While many states have laws that encourage shared decision making and getting an informed consent, there is often a lack of communication between the patient and the physician. While patient engagement can be accomplished with electronic devices and apps, experts say that humanity needs to return to healthcare. Before one starts going hi-tech, one needs to start listening to patients and spend a few minutes more during each visit. There is no other substitute for the human voice. There is no machine, android, mobile phone or computer that comes close to the touch of a human hand and the gentle voice of a caring doctor. And this is where it should start.