Using Unconventional Methods Leads to Higher Patient Engagement

This past April, Becker’s Hospital Review hosted a group of 32 hospital executives to discuss a variety of topics, including patient engagement. The hospital executives were asked to define what patient engagement meant to them, with a common theme emerging almost immediately. “Engagement means we are partners for life – listening, educating and coming to an agreement on a plan,” noted one hospital executive. However, the executives also noted that patient engagement looks or feels different depending on the type of illness and the age or disposition of the patient they were working with. Engaging with an adult is much different than interacting with a child. Another problem they can face is the time and resources it takes to fully be engaged with patients as much as they should. Hospitals are challenged to utilize the resources they have to engage with their patients as much as possible.

Methods for Improving Patient Engagement:

Patient Advisory Boards – this is a tried and true method that has seen tremendous results for hospitals looking to make a deeper connection with their patients. Over the past five years, hospitals from around the country have recruited patients and families to serve on boards that work alongside the hospital staff to include policies, programs and protocols. These patient advisory boards provide a human face to the policies the hospital puts in place, and gives doctors the opportunity to speak directly with patients about their concerns with these same plans.

Involving Patients in Their Own Care – A doctor can do all they can to help a patient succeed in solving their medical problems, but a patient also needs to become an active participant in their own health. “If patients are not actively taking care of themselves, they won’t have good outcomes,” said one the executives who participated in the discussion. Patient engagement is also about understanding what circumstances and environment the patient deals with outside of a medical setting. The socioeconomic aspects of a patient’s condition are also important for physicians to understand to treat their patient properly. One of the executives mentioned a situation where they had a patient with out of control diabetes, and they were trying to figure out why she wasn’t taking her insulin. After speaking to the patient, they soon realized she was taking her insulin, but didn’t have a working refrigerator to store the insulin. Providing context to some of their patient’s problems results in solutions to these problems, benefitting both the patient and the provider.

Unconventional can result in large benefits – we all know that the healthcare industry is highly regulated, and for good reason! But sometimes finding opportunities to go outside the rules bring big benefits to the patient and the provider. After the hospital found out about the diabetes patient without a working refrigerator for her insulin, they decided to buy this patient a new refrigerator to store her medication. After this unconventional action, the patient only arrived at the hospital for scheduled appointment, instead of the multiple ER visits from before. Many hospital policies and processes are in place for a long time, and hospitals need to make that next step and review old policies to see if there is any benefit to continuing or changing them in the future. The executives interviewed also emphasized the need to challenge their own assumptions and see each patient as one person with unique fears, needs and challenges.

Does your hospital have any other ways to improve patient engagement? Let us know!

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