Tammy Hawes is CEO and Founder of Virsys12, a Salesforce Consulting and Appexchange Partner focused on healthcare technology transformation.
If we truly want a healthcare system in America that’s both effective and efficient, we should focus on patient engagement, in which clinicians communicate clearly with patients and patients share in making decisions and managing their conditions. This means that providers must make the effort to get to know their patients, communicate honestly with them and educate them about their health conditions. It also means that patients must make the effort to understand their conditions, educate themselves on how to live healthier lives and make the necessary lifestyle changes.
It’s a two-way street—and it’s an avenue that will take us to a better healthcare system for all. Unlike most other prescriptions for fixing our healthcare system, the patient takes responsibility for their health and, with the provider’s guidance, engages in activities that help their condition improve. It also means patients make the effort to educate themselves on the healthcare system and know how to select providers that best meet their unique needs.
An engaged patient is only possible with an engaged provider who equips the patient with the confidence to overcome the “white coat syndrome,” whereby a provider simply hands out pronouncements with little to no input from the patient. An engaged provider spends the necessary time with patients to thoroughly explain the patient’s condition—making clear what’s known and unknown about it, what the provider recommends and what the patient can do to help. An engaged provider also allows and encourages patients to share responsibility for making decisions about their healthcare—and allows patients’ needs to guide care priorities and resource allotment.
True patient engagement is rare today, but it can be the norm if we follow this path.
• Commit to shared decision making. Shared decision making puts the patient on equal footing with the provider, who works with the patient to make decisions about tests and treatment options. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the patient and provider are equally knowledgeable about medical matters but that the provider explains options to the patient in a way the patient understands and that the patient makes rational decisions with this guidance.
• Stay engaged throughout aftercare. Aftercare is an essential part of any patient’s treatment plan, but it isn’t unusual for patients to misunderstand or ignore aftercare instructions—especially when these instructions are complicated or require difficult lifestyle changes. Technology can help this problem by sending automated reminders to patients about recommended activities during aftercare.
• Address issues caused by social determinants of health. Patients are more likely to be engaged if the instructions they receive from providers take into account social determinants of health. This requires meeting the patient where they are and understanding their unique situation and how it affects treatment decisions. This can mean, for example, connecting patients with food and affordable housing options.
• Educate patients. Simply telling patients what their options are isn’t enough: Patients need to be educated so that they truly understand. This can mean medication reminders, providing patients access to their medical records and sharing appointment notes, as well as correcting misinformation. Technology—especially patient portals and telehealth—can help here, but it can also mean having staff dedicated to keeping patients informed. The key is to understand the patient’s baseline knowledge and what they already know about their condition and then build on that. Constant communication is essential.
• Use technology sensibly. Providers should consider using remote patient monitoring tools to track vitals, symptoms, medications and general activity. The use of smart devices, such as smart inhalers, glucometers, thermometers and scales, can allow providers to keep tabs on patients between visits. Also, providers should meet patients where they are by using tech they already have, like smartphones, for which numerous apps are available to help providers help their patients. In many cases, smartphones can be tied to cloud-based tech that connect providers to patients between visits.
Thanks to our technology today, high-tech can mean “high-touch” when it comes to providers and their patients, leading to more patient engagement and better outcomes. But technology can’t replace genuine attention and care. The best patient engagement plan combines technology with compassion and attention.