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Patient Engagement: Giving Patients a Voice

8 Oct 2014 by Insight Editor

When opera singer Charity Tillemann-Dick gave a TED talk about surviving a double-lung transplant, she mentioned her experience with a doctor who told her singing again might kill her.

That doctor’s hunch was wrong. This was a patient who had an unwavering will to sing. She wanted to have a voice in her own care plan. And she wanted her caregivers to listen.

“Medical conditions don’t negate the human condition,” she said in her talk. “And when people are able to pursue their passions, doctors will find they have better, happier and healthier patients.”

Her words sum up why listening to patients is so important. In the language of healthcare, listening is part of what creates better “patient engagement.” It starts with the basic concept of respecting a patient’s values, preferences and needs. It means keeping in mind that patients are the ones who have the biggest stake in their own care. And it means their voices matter.

What it means to hospitals

It’s easy to see how patients benefit if they are invested in their own care: it makes for better outcomes when patients take an active role in managing their own treatment.

But, patient engagement also affects the bottom line for hospitals.

Ongoing health education can reduce readmission rates, improve the quality of care and even lower system costs. A patient who keeps up with her medication and prescription refills, for example, is better off than one who ends up in the emergency department because he ran out of his medicine and stopped taking it.

Patient satisfaction is also a factor in Medicare payment reform, and patient engagement index rankings are making hospitals pay even more attention.

How to improve engagement

So what are best practices that lead to improved engagement? Here are seven tips:

  1. LISTEN. Stop doing all of the talking and take a couple of minutes to hear your patients and families. Adapt to their needs.
  2. INFORM. Are you explaining medical information in a way your patients and families understand? Help improve their health literacy by communicating clearly and simply.
  3. INVOLVE. Share treatment options with your patients and families and let them make informed decisions about their care.
  4. CONNECT. Make it easy for patients to connect with information, whether you can provide an app for appointment reminders, or even contact information for a specific person who can respond to their questions or help connect them with community resources. Use customizable e-newsletters or social media to stay connected.
  5. REMIND. Encourage your patients to set up reminder alarms on their phone or stickers on a calendar to remember to take medication or follow a care plan.
  6. FOLLOW UP. Use surveys, interviews or focus groups to gauge patient satisfaction.
  7. ENGAGE. Involved patients can help others navigate the healthcare system by being invited to participate in support groups and advocacy opportunities. Encourage patients to speak up and have their voices heard.