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Getting Engagement Right: Start with the Patient Perspective

Monday, October 01, 2018
Gregory Makoul & Geri Lynn Baumblatt

by Gregory Makoul & Geri Lynn Baumblatt

In one tweet, Erin Moore expressed how many people view standard patient engagement efforts. Too often, they’re well-intentioned ways to tell patients what they need to do from the perspective of a care pathway. But what about the patient’s perspective?

It can be challenging for care teams to get a good sense of what patients are going through in their lives. People have brief encounters with healthcare providers, but deal with health more than 5,000 waking hours per year. How do clinical teams know what patients are going through, what matters to them as people, what they need and want to do, and what gets in their way? And how can they help?

The simple answer is to ask and listen. Indeed, patient-centered care sounds simple: respect patients as people; pay attention to their perspectives. But clinicians are running harder than ever, making it difficult to accomplish this in everyday practice. In other words, even simple things are hard. Solutions have to be easy.
There are a variety of promising solutions, ranging from teaching and assessment geared toward improving provider communication skills to programs that help patients clarify values and preferences to digital tools that capture patient ‘stories’ about themselves, their health, and their care and deliver useful summaries to the care team. The line of continuity that runs through successful solutions is sensitivity to the fact that both patients and providers are busy and often overwhelmed.
Of course, providers can ask about goals, barriers, and other patient perspectives in the course of talking with patients or caregivers. But time is certainly a constraint. Moreover, we have seen that patients share information via digital tools that has not been raised in previous interactions, which could be a function of overcoming embarrassment, more organized thinking when prompted to contemplate what they want to share, or the fact that they have never been asked. So how could a digital tool help?
Imagine a provider who is frustrated because a patient’s blood sugar is “out of range”, despite reviewing the treatment plan at each visit over the past couple of years. Before the patient comes in the next time, she is prompted to use a digital tool to share how her health affects everyday life, her priorities and goals, and barriers to achieving them. Once this information is captured, it can be pulled into the medical record and the doctor can review a summary before walking into the exam room.
And the conversation shifts: “Oh, now I understand – your husband does the cooking and he cooks with a lot of sugar and sweeteners.  Let’s try a different approach.”
Or in another scenario: “I didn’t realize that you’re also caring for an ill parent. How is that impacting your ability to take care of yourself?”

The first step to real patient engagement is acknowledging that patient perspectives are integral to excellent care. Getting the information digitally can improve communication by getting thoughtful, candid responses and reliably positioning what matters to patients front and center in clinical encounters.  But digital should augment, not replace, the personal. Capturing patient perspectives and integrating them into the workflow sets the stage for improving the experience and delivery of care – for both patients and providers.

Gregory Makoul, PhD MS is internationally recognized for expertise in physician-patient communication and shared decision making as well as a radical common sense, person-centered approach to health care innovation. He is Founder and CEO of PatientWisdom, Executive-in-Residence at AVIA, and Professor of Medicine at the UConn School of Medicine. Greg devoted six years to care transformation as Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer / Chief Academic Officer at Saint Francis Care in Hartford CT, gaining real-world experience that complemented 15 years on the faculty at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. In 2018, he received the George Engel Award from the Academy on Communication in Healthcare for outstanding research contributing to the theory, practice, and teaching of effective healthcare communication and related skills.  @g_makoul @PatientWisdom

Geri Lynn Baumblatt MA, For the last 20 years, Geri has worked to help people understand health conditions and procedures, orient them to their diagnoses, make more informed decisions about their care, and partner with their care teams.  She oversaw the creation of the Emmi program library, and she regularly speaks and serves on patient engagement, patient experience, health literacy, shared decision making, health design, family caregiving, and heath communication panels for organizations like AHRQ, the Brookings Institute, Stanford Medicine X, and the Center for Plain Language. She serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Patient Experience, is on the board of the Society for Participatory Medicine, and published a chapter in Transformative Healthcare Practice through Patient Engagement (IGI Global). She currently consults on patient engagement, family caregiving, and health communication. Follow her on Twitter @GeriLynn


Tags: patient engagement, communication, technology, engagement, listening, patient
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