I’m often asked about my take on patient engagement. These buzzwords are losing their meaning. Frankly, I find myself at a loss to answer, even though I say patient engagement is my passion. Engagement from whose point of view?

  • A person engaged in their own health – Isn’t everyone engaged in their own health? My symptoms affect me. I’m in pain. I can’t function as I’d like to. I’m sad. I’m anxious. I react. I manage or I don’t. I can accept, deny, adapt. I suffer, I advocate, I overcome. Maybe it’s my parent’s health or my partner’s or my child’s  It’s all engagement. I’m engaged in my own health. So maybe that’s not the question.
  • A clinician engaged in their patients’ health. My neurologist said he’s an expert in what works related to treatments and therapeutics for populations of people with Multiple Sclerosis, but he doesn’t know crap about me and my life. He wants to learn about what’s important to me and about my basic habits and circumstances – transportation, finances, culture, and spiritual values, family, hobbies, exercise, diet…. He’s engaged in my health. What if it’s not about his engagement with me?
  • A patient engaged by adhering to their clinicians’ prescriptions and medical plans. Certainly, a paternalistic and common view of engagement. I’m engaged when I follow all instructions whether I understand them, can afford them or can get to them. Wait, maybe it’s not about the patient-clinician relationship at all.
  • Patients engaged in governance, design, operations, and learning about medical care delivery, policy, research, technology, and business. People at the center of care (patients, direct care clinicians, and the people that support them) sitting at decision and learning tables like boards, advisory councils, departmental meetings, product design sessions, insurance company business meetings.

The challenge of giving a serious nod to patient engagement is that few of us are really prepared for success. Being super engaged in my own health means that I’m the CEO of my health team and that I manage myself and my subcontractors well. It means that I have a care partner that can step in when I can’t – a succession plan. It means that I do everything I can to operate at peak performance.  All while I’m sick or disabled:( The clinician engaged in their patients’ health means that they solicit and accept their patients’ expertise and they have the humility to accept how little expertise they have in non-drug, non-surgery treatment, or actually, much outside their specialty – like the reality of people’s day-to-day life challenges. Increasing patients’ engagement in governance, design, operations, and learning leads inevitably to pressure for transparent price lists before service, seamless transition from one setting or clinician to the next, on-demand self-scheduling, patient and clinician controlled health data sharing, access to and payment for non-drug, non-surgery treatments, funding research about outcomes that matter to people, and on and on.

I think we need to be more specific about what we mean by patient engagement. And be careful of what we wish for.

 

 

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