Most of us think about the care provider's quality when improving health outcomes, but patient engagement also plays a huge role. So how do we get patients to feel ownership over their health? How can we help them to take charge and understand how important their care plan is? These are tough questions with actionable steps and solutions that every healthcare organization can consider to improve patient engagement.
Communicating the care plan
It’s a familiar situation — we’re in the doctor’s office or at the hospital, we hear the instructions, and everything makes sense. When we get home suddenly, we’re not sure what to do next. The instructions on the prescription aren’t clear. There were several rules around when or when not to do certain activities. With so many steps and details, the confusion is understandable.
Implementing a thoughtful education and discharge process is essential for patient adherence to the care plan and ultimately the health outcome. Patients need to hear and see what they need to do at home. They need to have it written and they need to have an open line of communication where they can get answers quickly. According to the American Journal of Medicine, approximately 50% of patients with chronic disease do not get the full benefit from treatment because of poor compliance.
Furthermore, providers should ask the patient if there is a caregiver or loved one they should also speak with to let them know the care plan. Given that the patient is currently in the doctor’s office or hospital, they may not be in the best frame to remember all the details. Informing caregivers helps them to be advocates for sticking to the care plan, leading to better adherence and outcomes.
One of the easiest ways to influence someone to do something is to have them involved in planning the strategy so that you get their buy-in right from the start. Providers can involve their patients by simply letting them know their care options and then explaining their thought process when narrowing down which option is right for the patient. Transparency is key when it comes to big decisions along the care journey.
For example, there might be two medications that could work for a patient. Still, instead of the physician just making a decision they could explain the medication to the patient including the process for administering the medicine and the side effects. The patient then has a chance to weigh in if there is one they like better and will be more likely to adhere to instructions.
The Institute of Medicine defines patient-centered care as “Providing care that is respectful of, and responsive to, individual patient preferences, needs and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.” Additionally, patient-centered care considers the whole person, believing that physical and mental health are intertwined. This model contrasts with reducing patients to, or defining them by, their disease and only focusing on treating that physical ailment. The patient-centered care model has been shown to contribute to improved outcomes for patients, better use of resources, decreased costs, and increased satisfaction with care.
How often do we hear from our doctor after an office visit or hospital stay? And, is it timely (let’s say within 24 hours of discharge)? The first day or two after leaving the doctor or hospital is critical. Patients need to be able to reach out to their providers whenever they have questions. They should also be receiving a call to address issues. By having both inbound and outbound channels available, we can feel more confident that we’re addressing issues or complications early, when it’s easier to get back on track before problems become severe.
Better health outcomes
Engaged patients are in a better position to make informed decisions about their care. And when you have both patients and providers that are on board with a care plan, it’s more likely that you’ll end up with a positive health outcome. From taking medication properly to reaching out as soon as a wound shows signs of infection, an engaged patient can dramatically impact outcomes, readmissions, length of stay, and other quality metrics.
Providers can’t control a patient’s engagement level entirely, but concrete, actionable strategies can be implemented to reach optimum engagement. The more we can help patients understand their care decisions and plans, the more motivated they will follow them.
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The National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives (NALHE) and Dignity Health Global Education (DHGE) are aligned in their mission to increase access to high-quality education and equity in healthcare