Keep Your Patients Healthy and Engaged

Getting your patients actively involved in their health care keeps them healthy. Simple. This very important learning comes from a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Quality Field Notes brief about patient engagement1.

And, according to other research2, in order for changes to the healthcare system to be successful in reducing expenses and improving quality, the patient must be consistently "engaged" for everything to work.

The concept of patient engagement has been in existence for more than a decade. But, what is patient engagement?

The Center for Advancing Health has been asking that very question and has made an extensive effort over the last year to develop a definition for patient engagement—"Actions people take to support their health and benefit from their health care."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation takes this definition a bit further by advocating for a three-level framework for identifying and building patient engagement:

  • First-level patients become engaged in managing their own care.
  • Second-level patients provide input to the health care organizations, including doctors' office, to help improve care for all patients.
  • Third-level patients are involved in efforts to influence community-wide programs, policies, laws and regulations in health care.

Smaller institutions may not have the resources to develop an extensive program to engage patients within all three levels of the framework. Therefore, starting to identify and categorize patients into three "buckets" will help physicians and staff members begin to build a program to increase patient engagement.

The facts show there is significant opportunity to improve health and health care through patient engagement1:

  • Patients without the skills and confidence to manage their own health care pay up to 21 percent more for health care than patients who are highly engaged.
  • Nearly half —47 percent—of patients have brought a friend or a relative to a doctors' appointment so that they could help ask questions and understand what the doctor is saying.

For the small- to mid-sized organization armed with this information, implementing many small steps can produce dramatic effects. Imagine if the other half of your patients starting bringing a friend or relative to their appointments. There would be a dramatic decrease in health care costs because it's proven that this partnership leads to a host of benefits like better management of chronic illnesses and preventing hospital re-admissions. Just verifying that patients fill prescriptions is a start.

Also, if patients feel like they have a say in their care, they will be more satisfied with your organization.

Understanding that we've been brought up in a health care system to believe the more tests, the better, how do you begin to create a partnership between your physicians, patients and families to increase patient engagement?

  • Ask your patient how they want to communicate with you. Right now, practices tell patients to use a patient portal. Turn that around and let your patients define a preferred method, e.g., phone, mail, e-mail or text. Then, invest in those outreach methods.
  • Make it a goal to encourage patients to bring a friend or relative to an appointment when you know details may be overwhelming. Consistently remind patients that it's important to have someone attend.
  • Stay on track with follow-up visits. Educate your patients about why follow-up care is important in addition to developing a schedule for follow ups.

Now that patient engagement has a definition—"Actions people take to support their health and benefit from their health care"—begin to build a concerted plan within your organization to categorize your patients by levels of engagement so you can understand how to increase their engagement. Ask patients how to best communicate with them, and encourage them to bring a friend or relative to important appointments. Keep your patients engaged and healthy with follow-up visits and additional education. Starting with a small engagement plan will result in better health for your patients and a better health care system.


1. "What We're Learning: Engaging Patients Improves Health and Health Care." Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Quality Field Notes. 1 Mar. 2014. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.
2. "Here to Stay: What Health Care Leaders Say About Patient Engagement." Center for Advancing Health, 30 June 2014. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.


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Topics: Quality Improvement, Patient Care, Value-Based Care

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