Patient Engagement Means Being Engaged in Healthcare Decisions

Thu, 03/24/2016 - 15:21 -- Patient Engagement
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Making a decision without all the information at hand can be discouraging at times, especially when it is certain that some details are specifically being withheld. Take for instance purchasing something online; there may be a product description, general information but lacks particulars that you are in need of. When this purchase isn’t something of great need or importance, you may be willing to go ahead with the purchase, but what if it is something crucial? It might then be necessary to scour the internet for more information, talk to people who know specifics, or do other outside research.

This used to be the way it was when visiting a medical professional: basic information was presented, but the patient wasn’t truly smart enough to make an informed and logical conclusion. Patient engagement was more about friendly chit-chatting than taking charge of one’s own health and health future. To say that this is the norm nowadays is far from accurate. In fact, the medical community has seen the results of having well-informed and engaged patients; these patients tend to have more positive outcomes, feel empowered with decisions and results, have a better relationship with medical professionals, communicate more information about their health, and are willing to follow through on directions given.

In a society where the vast majority of people either own or have access to email and text, one of the biggest hurdles for communication has been removed. Many patients now have access to their doctor or doctor’s office in order to ask simple questions, which is much easier for both doctor and patient to handle without a formal visit to the office. It also allows the office to easily convey messages about upcoming appointments, test results and other non-critical information. With less time spent in one-on-one situations that require many resources, these can then be dedicated in more efficient and effective manners, which in turn benefits all patients.

Patients who are have access to their patient records, also known as EHR (electronic health record), have the ability to read, respond and ponder on what is going on with them. In some respects, this is equivalent to scouring the internet as a means of finding out more details, and thus being able to be a more informed and educated patient. Thus, when meeting with the doctor or when needing more knowledge about material in the EHR, the patient is truly taking charge over just being told what is the right treatment or plan to follow.

As with any situation, there will always be those individuals who either don’t want to be engaged. Knowing the full scope of a condition, feeling overwhelmed with information being presented or feeling the pressure to make the right decision can be too much for some patients. This can especially be seen in the older generation who have grown up with the more traditional ways of medicine and may also feel inundated by trying to learn the technologies of smartphones and internet. Whatever the case may be and to whatever level a patient may feel they want to be informed and involved is one that should truly be taken on a case-by-case basis with great care taken to be open to that patient changing their mind down the road.

Patient engagement is an opportunity that has never been present to the scope that it is today. Data-driven decisions are being made together with both parties feeling a sense of responsibility and this is leading to better outcomes and more patient satisfaction in their care. As part of this strategy, new information systems have needed to be created so that a patient is able to securing look up their health record, leave a message for the doctor, set up an appointment or any other action that might have required personnel at a doctor’s office. As most people who have spent a significant amount of time on the internet know, not all websites and pages are very user-friendly. It can be very frustrating to navigate a site that isn’t intuitive or consistent throughout each page.

When this same vexation exists on a medical organization’s website, some patients will be discouraged enough to not utilize this tool, which will then require the resources only found when setting up and attending a doctor’s appointment at the office. Most systems created these days are very user-friendly, easy to navigate and quite intuitive, but no one should sit back and exclaim that they have it perfected. Being aware of patient feedback will help to fine-tune any well-oiled machine (or system).

Patient engagement isn’t about a single aspect or area of focus, but is a combination of many different tools, abilities, and personal needs that are found in any patient population. Like most of today’s technologies that are seen as cutting edge, they are also viewed as having a limited capability to tomorrow’s up and coming toys. We don’t know what patient engagement will look like in two or ten years, but it probably won’t appear as much of anything we recognize today, except patients will still see their doctor on occasion. Making an informed decision as a patient requires the information to do so, but also being involved and engaged with medical professionals.