You know (and I do, too) that not all our behaviors work in our best interests. Some of us eat too much sugar, sit on the couch too often, and imbibe the additional beer—knowingly to our detriment. Many of us want to do better, but we are instead drawn to what is easy, preferring instant gratification and the rewards it brings. The reason for the disconnect, as psychologist Dan Gilbert explains, is that we walk around with an illusion of our personal history—we believe that who we are right now is who we will remain the rest of our lives. When we imagine our future selves, they’re just wrinklier versions of the same person we are now—behaviors, beliefs and preferences in-tact.
Diving deeper, this comes from the false belief that we don’t change, which can leave us stalled, even when faced with information that asserts we must. In the healthcare sphere, patient resistance to caretakers trying to help positive change happen is a daily problem. The disconnect comes between the sterile clinical side of medicine advising what we “must” do versus the reality of human behavior, as seen in those receiving care.
Patients most often resist medical treatments when they perceive the choice is one of life versus quality of life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 125,00 people with treatable ailments die each year in the United States because they don’t take their medication properly. And 10-25% of hospital and nursing home admissions result from patient noncompliance at home.
If you’re a health care provider, you understand this; you’ve witnessed it countless times. The good news is that there are now more tools and options in your medical toolbox to help you work together with patients. The message has finally shifted from a cold and clinical perspective to one rooted in personal empowerment. You and the patient are a team.
What really inspires patient engagement?
Before we can delve into how to encourage teamwork, let’s define what patient engagement is. Per healthcare communications expert Spōk, medical providers sometimes confuse engagement with other measures of satisfaction and experience. So, to be specific, engagement here is: “Actions individuals must take to obtain the greatest benefit from the health care services available to them.”
Engagement requires good communication and collaboration between the patient and healthcare provider. When patients are engaged, they are more likely to remain out of the hospital and comply with your care plans, thus reducing the likelihood of additional costs such as further diagnostic testing, referrals, and additional surgeries.
A patient-driven strategy
So, how can you work in tandem with your patient to see these improvements in engagement? Here, we highlight several concepts that empower patients. You are an essential part of the medical environment, and technology has proved a boon, too, as has the advance of information access. The total result has been a melding of lessons that have significantly altered the overall in-home-care patient experience.
- True collaboration: To achieve cooperation, the goals for healing must be meaningful to the patient. Dropping pounds, lowering blood pressure, or adjusting triglycerides may not be compelling if driven by metrics alone. It’s far better if the payoff is a relatable reward—for example, achieving the health for more fun activities, such as dancing or being able to pick up a grandchild easily. Brainstorm with patients to set their targets, and encourage family support if the patient wants the boost.
- Make change easier: Change is tough, especially when it is thrust upon someone due to a health issue. Tech has stepped in with solutions from reminders for medications to tracking behaviors, all of which make creating new habits more fun and manageable. Clinics and pharmacies also use tech to send text reminders for appointments and refill prescriptions. Some medical outlets offer perks such as rewards for goals met and memberships to services such as gyms. Turning behavior change into a game-like challenge to manage rather than a problem to overcome shifts the dynamic.
Communication control: Nothing is quite as empowering as the access to information. Assuring patients can easily communicate with their physicians via email has been a significant change from healthcare delivery of the past. And now that more medical records are digitized, patients can receive their medical information faster, too. In this paradigm where the patient is part of the solution, tools of communication have made all the difference.
- Honor the patient experience: Perhaps the best way to empower patients and to establish trust is to honor the patient experience. Individuals must be able to speak freely and tell their story, even if some details fall outside the data needed for medical records. For some, it is therapeutic to share their journey and even hear from others on a similar path. Invite patients to join online groups and in-person gatherings to encourage personal storytelling.
When health care professionals can step back and see the person behind the patient, the foundation for effective interaction is laid. Sometimes the act of listening is what is key. When there are setbacks, it will then be easier for a patient to acknowledge them and pick up to move forward again if they feel heard.
An improved care experience
Today, it is hard to remember the old, patriarchal climate of medicine when patients were subservient and clueless in their healthcare situation. We’ve come a long way in recognizing the value of a collaborative environment. For the patient, the advantage is increased adherence to medical directions, which translates to better outcomes.
With the use of technology, access to information, and a focus on teamwork, patients can take a personal stake in their care. And for health care providers, patient engagement means your work is more likely to make a positive difference.