5 ways of achieving patient engagement: Part 1, without technology

If one looks at communications revolving around healthcare these days, whether emanating from political, healthcare economics, clinical or technology spaces, the term "patient engagement" is invariably found as one of the cornerstones of the conversation.  This is no more evident than in the digital health technology space. One would think that patient engagement is only possible by hitching a wagon to the technology horse.

I would like to explore the issue with two posts, the first devoted to non-technical considerations and the second examining best practices of technology use in this regard.

1. Listen to the patient. Patient-physician communication is the basis for much of what transpires during the tenure of the professional relationship. Lack of good communication has been cited for medication non-adherence. William Osler, the father of modern American medicine, famously stated that the patient will tell you the diagnosis with the narration of the history. Given the fact that most office encounters today last 15-20 minutes and that patients have comorbidities requiring attention, it's no wonder why many times they aren't heard. The physician is looking at the computer screen, clicking off checks. The system is no longer geared toward human interaction and this creates a recipe for poor care, even if unintended. This is why direct care or concierge medicine is becoming popular. Both physicians and patients are returning to communicating in this setting. Other solutions need to arise to promote communication. Providing patients with pre-visit guidance in order to organize their thoughts and concerns might help.

2. Motivate your staff to be as patient-focused as you are. Office and hospital staff should reflect the provider's patient-focused approach to care. Many times staff members are too task-oriented and forget there is a patient who is the reason behind those tasks. If the staff takes on the mindset of a stakeholder in the patient's care and not just performing a job, the result will be a happier patient. Patient satisfaction surveys (an important part of the future healthcare landscape) will reflect this aspect of care. Patient-centered professionalism should be the goal of all ancillary staff.

3. Demonstrate to the patient that you are an advocate. Going to bat in front of an insurer for a patient who really needs a specific drug or procedure is something I always felt good about. Spending time on such matters is something physicians years ago (I'm dating myself) went into the field thinking they would have to do. However onerous, it's what patients need docs to do in critical moments. And patients do very much appreciate this. It is what made me feel good going to sleep at night.

4.  Show them your personal side. Social media is a great way for providers to show their personal side. This is not to say that personal interactions with patients should take place one-on-one, but a way in which patients see the personal (and hopefully appropriate) side of their healthcare professional. I believe Twitter is a better forum for this than "friending" between a provider and patient on Facebook.

5. Individualized self-management. Patients will partner with providers in their treatment plans with different levels of enthusiasm. Some patients will require more support than others (motivational and material). Discussing patient engagement early on in the relationship is important. It should also involve a caregiver who might be the one participating in the engagement on a larger scale. A provider who embraces co-management and is seen as both a partner and supporter of the patient will be appreciated.

The above might seem obvious to most people, but in today's discussions surrounding patient engagement, the humanistic aspects of achieving this are lost in the vision of technology magically transforming how patients react to their medical conditions and to their healthcare providers.

David Lee Scher is a former cardiac electrophysiologist and is an independent consultant and owner/director at DLS Healthcare Consulting, LLC, concentrating in advising digital health companies and their partnering institutions, providers and businesses. A pioneer adopter of remote cardiac monitoring, he lectures worldwide promoting the benefits of digital health technologies. Twitter: @dlschermd. He also blogs at http://davidleescher.com. He was cited as one of the 10 cardiologists to follow on Twitter and one of the top ten blogs on healthcare technology.