July 8, 2015

Patient Engagement Needs a Definition

This is another great blog about patient engagement! The author is correct that there is no standard definition for patient engagement. I can offer a one-word definition that anyone can understand - “Communication.” This does need to be a two-way communication. I will also quote from Dr. Rob Lamberts - Communication isn’t important to health care, communication is health care.” I like to use this because too many doctors forget this! That is why they have come up with the term “patient engagement” to muddy the waters.

In the exam room, too many doctors talk at us and not with us, go on autopilot as if we aren't there, and too often come up with the incorrect cause of why we are there. I am upset because now doctors will use this term as a way to convince others that they have meaningful use of their medical health records (MHR) or electronic health records (EHR) when in reality, it is only the records they are interested in for billing efficiency.

It is true that our health care system cannot afford another process that allows competing commercial interests to derail and hold hostage physicians and patients in the delivery of affordable patient care designed to improve outcomes, enhance patient experiences and reduce costs.

Starting in the 1990's, patient engagement has meant different things to different people and is no clearer today than it was then.

Last year I was in a doctor's office and this was on the wall - Patient Engagement is what the Patient Activation Measure score dictates. I knew that the terms could be used differently, but this did surprise me. The doctor did see me looking at it and took it down. Had I known then that I would not be seeing him again, I would have made some remarks, but I did not.

This reminds me of an earlier blog from December 16, 2014 titled Patient Engagement Is Backwards. This blog shows that the way doctors and hospitals see patient engagement is the reverse of what it needs to be. Our healthcare system discourages patient engagement by discouraging honest, straightforward communication. Many doctors patronize us and feel they are the only source of information we, as patients need. They talk at us instead of with us and many belittle us because they don't receive the information from us that is already in their records and they are too lazy to look up, or are not accessible because one electronic record will not communicate with another electronic record. HIPAA is often blamed, when it is the proprietary electronic systems that are to blame.

In reality, patients have no choice but to be engaged. They are provided these details in an inefficient way that causes a lot of frustration, worry and fear on top of already stressful medical concerns. Physicians need to think less about the patient being more engaged, and focus on how they can simplify, encourage, and automate engagement tools on behalf of the patient. People are accustomed to integrated, automated, 24-hour customer service in almost every other industry, but the healthcare system is backward.

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