An “engaged” patient is a healthier patient, with fewer medical issues over the course of one’s lifetime.
“Engaged” patients reduce the overall cost of our nation’s healthcare delivery system and increases financial incentives for physicians and hospitals.
If we truly believe the above statements to be true; then why aren’t more patients “engaged” and why don’t more healthcare organizations make “patient engagement” a priority?
Patient engagement sounds easy. Most physicians would say they work collaboratively with their patients to achieve mutually agreed upon healthcare goals; but do they really? In my opinion, the “health” of the relationship between the physician and the patient will determine the quality of the clinical outcome and therefore, is critical to any discussion regarding enhancing patient engagement.
Patients need to become an active participant in the physician/patient relationship. Traditionally, patients have taken a passive role; agreeing to whatever their physician tells them they should do. I vividly recall many visits with my mother to her oncologist. She never questioned his treatment plan, never asked about side effects, and never fully understood why surgery wasn’t the right solution for her illness. Yet she would ask these questions of me on the ride home. This is patient engagement at its worst.
In order for healthcare organizations to be successful in this new age of Healthcare Reform we must provide our patients with the tools they need to engage. We need to make it easy for the patient to become more interested and involved in their overall health and medical care. Technology plays a huge role in facilitating the improved relationship between the patient and their physician. Here are just a few examples, from a patients’ point of view, for physicians to consider if they have not already done so.
- Access to care: Patients do not want to wait weeks for an appointment with a physician. Whether you are a Primary Care Physician or a Specialist, see me quickly and if you can’t, provide me with an appointment with a qualified alternative. In the era of Healthcare Reform it is not about the quantity of the services you provide, but the quality of the care you give.
- Patient Portals: Give me access to online registration, appointment scheduling and my healthcare records; just like the airlines, restaurants and the hotels do. Provide information about your healthcare facility to include maps, directions, nearby coffee shops and where I can get a wireless connection for my IPhone.
- Communicate: Remind me of my appointment via a communication method of my choice; email, telephone call, text, or all three if that I what I choose. Speak to me in the language that I understand.
- Information: Tell me if I have to pay a co-payment, or my deductible, before I arrive so that I can be sure to have my debit card on hand when I visit your Practice.
- Courtesy: Have your receptionist greet me with a smile and say my name. Be sure this happens for all of your patients. Say hello to family members and caregivers too. They have a significant impact on whether your patient returns to your organization in the future.
- Efficiency: Do not make me fill out registration and insurance forms in the waiting room if I have already done so when I booked the appointment online. This redundancy makes me think that your organization does not have its act together.
- Convenience: Don’t make me wait more than fifteen minutes in the waiting room, and please provide relevant reading materials, television and wireless Internet access that allows me to access education related to my health. Don’t make me wait in the exam room for more than ten minutes. There is nothing more maddening than sitting on your exam table in a paper gown staring at the “Ask me if I washed my hands” sign over the sink? Better yet, provide me with a cloth gown instead.
- Collaborate: During our visit, talk to me. Speak in a calming, caring manner. Ask me if I understand everything that you say to me. Ask me if I have more questions. Do not rush me. Give me written instructions should I need to take medication, perform exercises, or change my diet. Confirm all information with my caregiver or family member if one is with me.
- Follow Up: Have one of your healthcare coaches call me in a few days to ensure that I am following your post-visit instructions. That’s what my veterinarian does.
Patient engagement does not “just happen”. As healthcare providers and managers, we need to be more customer oriented than ever before. Fee for Value is not a futuristic payment methodology that will never happen during the course of your career. In fact, CMS is calculating Meaningful Use payments for 2015 based upon the quality of the care you are giving in 2013 for physician group practices of 100 providers or more. Invest in a well-defined Patient Engagement initiative that includes physicians, staff and patients. Afterall, it’s just not “what the doctor ordered” anymore.