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Patient Engagement Boosts Safety, Quality and Patient Self-Management

21 Nov 2014 by Richard Scott

What if, in the vast and complex healthcare system, the patient was the central figure, actively engaged in his health, wellness and decision making? How would it affect the three pillars of the influential IHI Triple Aim — patient satisfaction, improved health and reduced costs?

Hospitals, providers and other stakeholders are betting that the more involved a patient is, the better the outcomes will be for all parties involved.

Defining patient engagement

Central to this thought is the idea of patient engagement, a very real and tangible movement that is gaining momentum throughout the healthcare system.

Patient engagement springs from the wells of common sense and research alike. Not only does it simply feel that a more involved patient will have a better experience, but studies indicate that more engaged patients achieve higher levels of quality and safer care, with fewer errors and safety concerns.1

“The reason we talk about patient engagement is that we need the patient to be an active participant in their care plan,” said Chanin Wendling, director of eHealth at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, which has launched a number of efforts aimed to boost the patient’s engagement with his or her own care.

Patient engagement in practice

In practice, patient engagement may mean patients adhering to treatment protocols, being partners in medical decision making, remembering to take their medication or following their prescribed treatment plan.

“To the extent that we can make it easy for them to follow their care plan,” added Wendling, “then we are more likely to have better outcomes.”

A larger part of the healthcare experience

With data and intuition on their side, many experts and decision-makers are making patient engagement a larger part of the healthcare experience. Consider these examples:

  1. Payer models are adopting patient engagement. As part of its Value-Based Purchasing program, Medicare — the nation’s largest insurer — now reimburses hospitals and providers to an extent based on the “patient experience,” which includes engagement factors such as doctor and nurse communication.
  2. Engagement is a natural fit with technology. Nationally, hospitals are offering a number of patient-focused engagement techniques — from electronic record sharing, to text messaging and mobile apps. At Geisinger, providers give iPads to patients undergoing a lumbar spine surgery. The iPad comes preloaded with educational information, reminder apps, access to medical record and other tools. Text messaging programs and mobile apps are other ways to connect with patients electronically. The idea is to boost the overall quality of care, reduce setbacks and avoid unnecessary cost utilization, said Wendling.
  3. Improved engagement leads to better disease management. The prevalence of chronic disease is on the rise, with half of all adults — or about 117 million people — with one or more chronic illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The good news is that patient engagement improves chronic disease self-management, thus reducing the overall cost burden and decreasing costly recidivism, such as hospital readmissions that can tax an acute care facility.

By putting patient engagement to the test, hospitals and other providers are realizing improved outcomes that align with the Triple Aim. Increasingly, providers are using a broad array of technology and communication tools to interact with patients and enhance their levels of engagement.


1. Gallivan J, Kovacs Burns K, Bellows M, Eigenseher C. The Many Faces of Patient Engagement. Journal of Participatory Medicine. 2012;4.