Patient Engagement: One Step at a Time

Tad Arnt

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part blog series on building patient engagement. Today we’ll take a look at where to start your patient engagement strategy and four things to look out for before you begin.

The concept of patient engagement has become a key strategy to achieve the goals of triple aim: improved quality, better health, and lower cost. And it makes perfect sense, since no one has more control of his or her health status than the patient. A doctor, a nurse, and the care team only touch a patient for a few hours a year. The rest is up to patients and their caregivers. Rushika Fernandopulle, M.D., states “If you add up all the time that a patient will spend with you, as a doctor, over the course of a year, you get 2 or 3 hours. That leaves 8,732 hours that they’re not with you, and that’s where content comes in.” So where do you begin? Start by developing your core Enterprise Patient Education Strategy. The governance, shared vocabulary, enterprise standards, and objective measures will alleviate some, if not many, of the common pitfalls in patient engagement programs.

Gaining importance?—Patient education is not new to health care. The Joint Commission has had a requirement for years. The sea change as health care systems move toward fee-for-value is the increased role that patients will be asked to take on. Couple the patient’s amplified role with the increase in care coordination activities across clinical settings (and beyond), and the tasks can become quite daunting.

Four things to look out for:

  1. Workflow—To be stress-free, patient education needs to fit into the clinicians’ workflow. Make patient education easy for them to find, deliver, and record.
  2. Current state—When you begin, take some time to get on the floor and really see what patient education you have and how it is being used.
  3. Your patients—Do you have unique patient needs that you’re not addressing? Is there a high concentration of Spanish-speaking members in your community? Do you have a specific refugee population that lacks access in their language? While you won’t be able to address all the issues, try to cover the big areas.
  4. Integration—What technology investments have you made that you can leverage? Your EMR is the first place to start, but there are other areas to look at as well. Care coordination platforms, patient portals, and mobile apps all play a role in your patient engagement.

So how do you craft a patient engagement approach that will go the distance? Next week we’ll conclude this two-part series with a look at some best practices for patient engagement and ways to implement them in your organization.