The Importance of Patient Engagement in Medical Care

When patients take an active interest in promoting their own health, everyone wins: Care improves, health outcomes are better and costs are lower. This concept is best summarized by the term “patient engagement.”

In this MLMIC Insider post, we’ll take a deeper look at what patient engagement is, what it involves and how physicians can help promote it.

What Is Patient Engagement?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), patient engagement refers to “the process of building the capacity of patients, families, carers, as well as healthcare providers, to facilitate and support the active involvement of patients in their own care, in order to enhance safety, quality and people-centeredness of healthcare service delivery.” Simply put, patient engagement means actively involving individuals in their own care.

The Benefits of Patient Engagement

There are multiple benefits associated with patient engagement. For example, Regis College cites the following advantages:

  • Patients who are engaged in their own care typically experience greater satisfaction, improved health outcomes, lower costs and higher care quality.
  • Patient engagement can improve organizational culture by creating a more even distribution of power between healthcare providers and patients.
  • Seeking patient feedback can also streamline healthcare service design and delivery.

Factors That Impact Patient Engagement

There are many elements—at organizational, physician and patient levels—that can affect engagement. These include:

  • Healthcare Setting. According to research by Rachel Davis, MSc, published in Health Expectations, the healthcare setting, such as primary, secondary or tertiary care, can affect a patient’s level of engagement.”For instance, patients experience greater difficulty communicating with hospital staff than with their general practitioners,” writes Davis.
  • Organizational Commitment to Patient-Centered Care. When healthcare organizations prioritize a personal approach to care, physicians are more likely to dedicate time and effort into engaging with patients on a deeper level.
  • Physician-Patient Relationships. If patients and practitioners develop a strong rapport and mutual respect, they’re more likely to work as a team to address health concerns.
  • Patient Health Literacy. Patients who are health literate and have a working knowledge of the healthcare system will be more inclined to participate in conversations about their care.
  • Patient Demographic Characteristics. According to Davis, healthcare delivery varies based on a person’s age, sex, education and possibly their ethnicity. For example, younger patients, females and more educated individuals tend to be more engaged in their care. Patients are also likely to have deeper interactions with physicians when they feel like they are in an unbiased and supportive environment.
  • Illness-Related Factors. Davis’ research also indicates that, generally, patients with less severe conditions may be more actively engaged with their healthcare than patients with more debilitating illnesses.

How Physicians and Health Systems Can Promote Patient Engagement

A framework developed by Kristin Carman of the American Institutes for Research and coauthors, explains that direct care, healthcare organization design and policy making are areas that impact patient engagement. At each of these levels, patient engagement includes consultation, involvement and partnership.

The framework indicates that, at the direct care level, physicians can promote patient engagement by:

  • providing patients with information about a diagnosis (consultation);
  • asking patients about treatment preferences (involvement); and
  • making decisions based upon patient preferences, medical evidence and clinical judgment (partnership and shared leadership).

At the institutional level, healthcare organizations can boost patient engagement through:

  • surveying patients about care (consultation);
  • including patients as advisers or advisory council members (involvement); and
  • encouraging patients to co-lead safety and quality improvement committees (partnership and shared leadership.)

Other strategies that support patient engagement include:

Fostering patient engagement requires a multi-faceted approach. Although there isn’t a simple “recipe” to help promote this aspect of care, it is a worthwhile endeavor that improves outcomes for physicians, health systems and patients alike.

MLMIC also encourages our insureds to explore our existing resources on the topic of patient engagement: