- Patient participation and communication can significantly affect health outcomes and medical costs.
- Strategies like health literacy promotion and personalized care plans encourage patients to make informed decisions and contribute to shared decision-making.
- Remote monitoring technology enhances engagement by offering accessible means to participate in care beyond the clinical setting.
Of the many factors affecting patient health, patient engagement is among the most influential.1 Healthcare providers can supply treatment plans, but it is the patient's follow-through that limits possible progress.
High engagement levels can benefit everything from costs to patient outcomes.2 Two separate studies on patient activation scores, which are based on one's ability and willingness to engage in healthcare, found that patients with low scores incur up to 21% higher care costs,3 while high activation rates significantly and positively influence health-related quality of life (HRQoL) rates.4
To foster high patient engagement, providers need to work collaboratively with patients and their support systems. Though efforts to boost engagement may initially require more resources, research shows they can pay off in the long run; as highly engaged patients invest more of their own time into their health, they may require less from providers.5
Delve into the power of patient engagement and consider some strategies to support it.
Strategies for improving patient engagement
Patient engagement is more than taking vitamins or listening to physician advice; it involves attentiveness and adherence inside and outside the healthcare setting. Active patient participation can impact everything from long-term outcomes, like preventable readmission rates and incurred costs, to patient satisfaction and anxiety levels.6
While there are many benefits to patient activation, it can be difficult to achieve due to factors like poor communication, time constraints, and lack of understanding.7 To address these challenges, here are five strategies for improving patient engagement levels:
1. Establish effective communication
Clear and open communication between providers and patients is a key pillar of engagement as it facilitates trust, builds understanding and encourages patient transparency. High patient confidence in healthcare can manifest in higher patient satisfaction rates, increased willingness to follow treatment plans and improved health outcomes.89 Numerous studies have explored these correlations, with one analysis linking poor physician communication to a 19% higher risk of non-adherence among patients compared to those with good communication.10
An effective communication strategy is patient-centric, focusing on understanding the patient's unique perspective first and then compiling a treatment plan that aligns with their needs.11 To start improving communication on a daily basis, here are five essential tips for healthcare providers:12
- Active listening: Show interest in what the patient shares using eye contact, open body language and thoughtful follow-up questions.
- Address concerns: Acknowledge and validate patient concerns before offering professional insight.
- Provide clear explanations: When advising treatment, walk through the thought process behind it.
- Use plain language: Avoid complicated medical jargon to ensure patients understand and feel comfortable asking questions.
- Implement patient feedback channels: Provide patients with a means of sharing their experiences.
Communication plays a role in many other elements of patient engagement, so healthcare providers should prioritize it before moving on to other strategies.
2. Promote health literacy
Health literacy affects patient engagement and outcomes by influencing decisions and adherence. Yet, approximately nine out of 10 adults struggle with health literacy.13 The ability to find, understand and utilize health information and services helps empower patients to move forward in their health journey. Health literacy may be reflected in lifestyle choices, proactive efforts and even the day-to-day use of medications.14 It also dramatically affects costs as health illiteracy adds an estimated $106 to $236 billion in annual healthcare spend.15
Patient education should address personal health needs and general best practices, such as common chronic conditions within the patient’s community, how habits can influence long-term health, what popular over-the-counter medications do and why thorough intake form responses are so important. Informing providers of known family health history, for example, can critically impact a person's preventative treatment plan for years to come. While many may be generally aware of its importance, fewer actually record and share it when prompted. According to a U.S. university-based survey, only 39% of respondents have collected their family health history.16
“As a healthcare professional, you may know how important intake paperwork is, but for the patient, it can be overwhelming,” explains imaware’s Head of Marketing, Elizabeth Hardy. “My reluctant completion of a 9-page family history questionnaire ended up justifying my genetic testing for BRCA, given breast and ovarian cancer’s prevalence in my family tree. An extra step by my provider made all the difference; they sent the form in advance so I could gather input from relatives prior to my appointment. Every patient deserves that level of enablement and education.”
Fortunately, strategies for improving patient health literacy coincide with other engagement efforts, like offering educational materials in easy-to-understand formats. To get started, providers should consider conducting health literacy assessments as this will help to identify gaps in patient knowledge and where they may need additional support.
3. Utilize remote technology
Incorporating remote patient monitoring and telehealth technology opens up new means of engagement with patients beyond traditional clinical settings. Telehealth helps alleviate certain geographical barriers to patient activation by making patient-provider connections more readily accessible. Similarly, health apps, wearables and at-home tests enable patients to participate in their own health data collection.
An increasing number of people are becoming comfortable using these tools, with at least a third interested in using app services for things like symptom identification and health coaching.17 According to Deloitte Insights, 51% are comfortable using at-home tests to diagnose infections, 44% are comfortable using at-home tests to track overall health trends and 60% of consumers are willing to share their wearable device-generated health data with their healthcare providers.18 By integrating app data into patient records, providers can offer more holistic recommendations and treatment options.
At-home tests also broaden personalized care capabilities, enabling providers to hone in on specific health issues, administer targeted prevention or treatment plans and remotely oversee patient progress. Powered by imaware provides a white-label solution for providers looking for a secure testing infrastructure. With customizable, convenient at-home tests, providers can connect with patients and boost engagement through powerful health data.
4. Encourage shared decision-making
Shared decision-making is a valuable conduit of patient engagement. Supporting patients as they analyze their options builds understanding and trust, boosts adherence rates and more. In a large randomized study of patients with one to six different conditions, those involved in the decision-making process had approximately 5.3% lower medical costs, 12.5% fewer hospital visits, and 20.9% fewer heart surgeries.19
A model for shared decision-making published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine recommends a three-step process for providers:20
- Introduce choices
- Provide detailed options
- Explore patient preferences to reach a decision
A vital aspect of this method is using decision aids to provide patients with ample information and research so they are comfortable making decisions. The use of decision aids can not only improve patient-provider communication and patient satisfaction but also reduce the number of patients undergoing major elective invasive surgeries in favor of health or medication changes.21
A shared decision-making strategy engages patients while respecting their wants and needs by helping them make well-informed choices about their care.
5. Personalize care plans
Personalized care plans consider each patient's unique needs, including communication methods, treatment preferences and monitoring capabilities. These well-rounded treatment plans can promote better health outcomes across a variety of settings — an analysis of 19 studies that implemented personalized patient care plans found that this method led to improvement in physical health, psychological health and self-management capabilities.22
These plans require collaboration to incorporate current health status and risk assessments, patient needs, achievable goals, care procedures and monitoring methods.23 Fortunately, recent technological innovations have made it easier to customize the experience. Remote screening and monitoring tools, like smart devices and at-home health tests, can provide critical health data to drive insightful patient care plans. They also enhance both parties' ability to track adherence and progress of treatment plans as needed.
As chronic diseases burden the U.S. healthcare system, personalized health plans have become popular for effectively managing existing conditions and implementing preventative measures. Certain organizations have even made this coordinated health management approach mandatory for chronic condition care reimbursement.24
Effective healthcare goes beyond medical interventions — it hinges on patient engagement. Research shows that engaging patients can influence health outcomes, quality of life and medical costs.
Communication is vital to engagement, as active listening, clear explanations and feedback channels enhance trust and adherence. Patient education resources that promote health literacy and support shared decision-making further benefit patient engagement and health outcomes. Providers may utilize additional strategies, such as personalized care plans and remote health technology, to enhance these efforts.
Implementing a patient engagement strategy is valuable to patient care, as it can impact health outcomes and benefit patients and providers alike.
- Journal of Patient Experience. Impact of Patient Engagement on Healthcare Quality: A Scoping Review. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Patient Engagement. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Health Affairs. Health Policy Brief: Patient Engagement. Accessed November 21, 2023.
- Health Literacy Research and Practice. Are Health Literacy and Patient Activation Related to Health Outcomes in Breast Cancer Patients? Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Center for Studying Health System Change. How Engaged Are Consumers in Their Health and Health Care, and Why Does It Matter? Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Journal of Medical Internet Research. The Association Between Increased Levels of Patient Engagement With an Internet Support Group and Improved Mental Health Outcomes at 6-Month Follow-Up: Post-Hoc Analyses From a Randomized Controlled Trial. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Research Involvement and Engagement. Patient engagement in a national research network: barriers, facilitators, and impacts. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Journal of Healthcare Communications. Trust and Communication in a Doctor-Patient Relationship: A Literature Review. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- PLOS ONE. Trust in the health care professional and health outcomes: A meta-analysis. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Medical Care. Physician Communication and Patient Adherence to Treatment: A Meta-analysis. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Journal of Graduate Medical Education. “Best Practice” for Patient-Centered Communication: A Narrative Review. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Korean Journal of Medical Education. Assessing effective physician-patient communication skills: “Are you listening to me, doc?” Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Literacy Basics. Accessed November 29, 2023.
- Patient Preference and Adherence. Associations Between Health Literacy and Medication Self-Management Among Community Health Center Patients with Uncontrolled Hypertension. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- BMC HEalth Services Research. Impact of low health literacy on patients’ health outcomes: a multicenter cohort study. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- PLOS ONE. Awareness of family health history in a predominantly young adult population. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Deloitte Insights. Inside the patient journey: Three key touch points for consumer engagement strategies. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Deloitte Insights. Inside the patient journey: Three key touch points for consumer engagement strategies. Accessed November 22, 2023.
- HealthAffairs. Patient Engagement. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Journal of General Internal Medicine. Shared Decision Making: A Model for Clinical Practice. Accessed November 22, 2023.
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Decision aids for people facing health treatment or screening decisions. Accessed November 22, 2023.
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Personalised care planning for adults with chronic or long-term health conditions. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Federal Practitioner. Personalized Health Planning in Primary Care Settings. Accessed November 23, 2023.
- Journal of General Internal Medicine. Integrating Personalized Care Planning into Primary Care: a Multiple-Case Study of Early Adopting Patient-Centered Medical Homes. Accessed November 23, 2023.