Patient engagement in healthcare is the strategy that ensures that patients and healthcare providers have a mutually beneficial and harmonious relationship. It has become more essential with time to ensure that patients are not only engaged but activated when it comes to their health and well-being.
Many healthcare facilities and organizations are now prioritizing patient engagement, which means that new strategies are constantly being developed. An organization must have strategies that are achievable and traceable when it comes to ensuring patient engagement.
Best Patient Engagement Practices
Patient engagement practices cover both the technical planning for patient engagement by organizations and the processes put in place to connect with patients. Patient engagement practices must be set up systematically and not just executed without planning.
Best practices for patient engagement are always evolving. Here are some of the top practices a healthcare facility can incorporate to improve their patient engagement and ensure that patients are playing active roles in their healthcare:
Technology is one of the backbones of patient engagement, especially for facilities that deal with large amounts of patients. Patient engagement does not work if patients do not feel seen and connected and the process of establishing that connection can be very time-consuming for each patient. Without the aid of technology, it would be nearly impossible to establish a working system of engagement with patients.
Technology makes patient engagement more efficient and effective. There are many ways that technology can be used to automate the process of patient engagement, the primary one being by improving communication. Proper communication is the vehicle on which all patient engagement strategies must move and, with technology, communicating with large and diverse groups of people has never been easier.
Technology benefits both patients and staff. For the patients, it makes engaging with healthcare easier and reduced the complexities and for staff, it reduces the workload of working with multiple patients per time.
Patient grouping and segmentation is an engagement practice that may not directly involve communicating with patients but makes all future practices much easier. Most healthcare facilities deal with patients that come from different demographics and have different health needs and requirements. This means that, in most cases, one uniform engagement strategy will likely not be suitable for an entire organization.
Patient populations should be segmented from the start based on demographics like sex, age, race, and ethnicity. Patients can then be further grouped by other social determinants of health or psychographics depending on what categories the organization decides on. These are immensely useful when dealing with patients as engagement strategies can be tailored to their individual needs.
When patients are not properly grouped, there is a risk of them feeling irrelevant or misunderstood because they are not being treated based on their individual needs but being put into a system. People do not want to feel like they are being treated by a system, they want to feel like their individual needs are important and being addressed.
Patient engagement is impossible without proper and comprehensive patient education. Most patients do not have a complete understanding of their health, diagnoses, or requirements. In most cases, patients simply visit their doctors when they are ill and do whatever their doctor tells them to with few questions. This system is not conducive to proper patient engagement.
Patient education aims to give patients the knowledge and skills they need to not only understand their health but to participate in it. It would be foolish to expect a patient to change their habits or lifestyles when they don’t understand why those behaviors are detrimental to them. The purpose of patient education is to open patients’ eyes to the intricacies of their own health.
Proper patient education is more than just lecturing patients on their behavior or handing out pamphlets in a waiting room. Patient education involves open and honest communication, encouraging patients to be inquisitive about their health, proper explanations of medical practices, and promoting health consciousness even when patients are not feeling ill. Healthcare facilities should readily provide educational resources to patients.
When patients are educated, they are better equipped to make smart decisions about their health. Patient education also significantly increases patient compliance with healthcare provider instructions. This is because they understand the reasoning behind those instructions.
Increase access to care
One of the biggest challenges facing patient engagement is the lack of access to healthcare by patients. There are many reasons why patients may not be able to properly access healthcare such as financial restrictions, social conditioning, where they live, and many more. Because of these factors, it may be difficult or even impossible for some people to access healthcare, much less receive proper patient engagement.
It is the responsibility of healthcare facilities to make their services as accessible as possible to as wide an audience as possible. This way, people who may not have normally been able to access healthcare can. Providing accessible healthcare aids patient engagement, especially when healthcare is offered to minority groups.
Practices like including healthcare options for people based on their religion or race, level of education, or social standing boost patient engagement because it shows that the facility is willing to meet patients halfway. Having the option of staff that speaks different languages or translators makes patients feel more accepted and comfortable. Offering options for remote care and treatment also makes healthcare accessible for patients who live in rural or distant areas. Remote care is also a good way to maintain relationships with patients when they are unable to make in-person visits.
Shared decision making
Shared decision-making is an essential component of patient engagement and is usually enhanced by proper patient education. Shared decision-making is the process of not only including patients in the decision-making process but including their input and contributions to their health. Patient engagement is important for shared decision-making because it equips patients to make the best decisions for their health.
Credit: Decision Making
Proper relationships cannot be established if the healthcare providers or care team make all health decisions for patients or talk down on them. In these cases, the patient may just feel like an observer in their health and may resolve to participate only passively since their opinion is unneeded and unvalued.
This is a faulty system. Patients should have a say in what clinicians they work with, the test and treatments administered to them, and the healthcare plans they are expected to follow. When a patient feels like they are making active choices for their health and not just being given instructions, they will be more willing to act on those choices and maintain good health practices.
Shared decision-making is so important because it emphasizes the collaboration that is at the center of all patient engagement plans. Shared decision-making also helps to reduce total hospital admissions because patients are educated and actively participating in their health. This does not mean that the professional knowledge and experience of healthcare workers should be disregarded or side-lined. Rather, it means that healthcare systems should do more work to have patients informed and educated so that they can offer valuable input to their healthcare providers.
Engagement pre and post-treatment
A stage where many patient engagement systems fail is in the care of patients before and after treatment. Patient engagement does not start and end when a patient steps into your facility. Healthcare facilities should be provided for patients before treatment begins and after.
Pre-treatment visits and procedures should be included in patient engagement strategies. Having patients fill out forms and answer questions before treatment puts them in a more comfortable position where they may be more willing to be open to medical information. Getting accurate information on patients before treatment starts also reduces workload during the treatment period and proves to patients that the facility is properly equipped to treat them.
Additionally, proper aftercare has a significant impact on engagement. The end of a treatment period does not mean the end of a patient’s needs. Aftercare instructions like medication or behavioral changes need to be monitored to ensure that patients heal properly. When patients see that facilities care for them even after treatment is complete, they will be more willing to adhere to aftercare instructions and maintain good relationships with their providers.
Patient engagement is not a simple process and there isn’t one perfect way to establish a good patient engagement system in an organization. Healthcare providers need to recognize that patients have diverse needs that need to be addressed with diverse systems.
Incorporating effective and individual patient engagement strategies is essential. Even with the systemic strategies put in place by facilities, healthcare workers must play their part by creating open and welcoming atmospheres for patients to properly communicate and engage comfortably.
Patient engagement is not a one-time thing but a continuous journey of trust and relationship between patients and healthcare providers. It is a long-term process of patient empowerment and agency that results in improved health for patients and health-providing systems for providers.