Simple Techniques to Improve Your Patient Engagement Today | Geneia

Simple Techniques to Improve Your Patient Engagement Today

August 20, 2015
Patricia Ingerick, MBA, MSHS / Director of The Geneia Institute


Much has been written about how to engage with patients, but is there a way to boil it all down to some simple techniques that work for patient care teams?  I’m happy to report there is.

As someone who teaches adults, I’ve come to figure out that they learn much differently than children. Adults have the benefit of a wealth of life experiences from which they draw upon to understand new ideas. For example, as an adult you may have already tried to improve your health by simply taking vitamins without improving your diet.  The result was probably a limited improvement in your overall health status. What you experienced during this trial helps to inform what you know about the world and how things work. In addition, because adults see themselves as self-sufficient, they tend to want to find the answers for themselves through doing or experiencing rather than simply being told what to do.

 As a member of their care team, you probably know quite a bit about your patient’s health conditions; however; your efforts to engage them will likely fail if you simply repeat to them what you know. This ‘paternalistic’ approach might work with pediatric patients, but the act of talking at adult patients as an ultimate authority on the topic of their health can put the patient on the defensive. After all, who knows the most about how the patient is doing or feeling than the patient themselves?  

So how can you successfully combine your clinical knowledge with what the patient knows and understands about themselves and the context in which they live their lives? The answer is to respect what the patient knows and what they want to learn.  

First, ask the patient what they think is important for you, as a member of their care team, to know about their health or about them as a patient. You might be surprised with the answer – it will certainly clue you into what matters most to the patient at that moment.  

Next, help the patient to respect the knowledge they already have about themselves. When patients indicate they have a ‘gut’ sense that something is not right or some treatment is not working, be sure to really listen to their insights. Be cautious that you are not simply hearing their words while thinking about what you want to say or do next. Respecting the fact that the patient does have a sense about their health and the way their body feels can allow the patient to open up to receiving new ways to improve their health.  

Adult patients also bring a wealth of personal experiences to their visit with you. Know that they are using their past experiences on which to base their future learning. If you want to teach an adult about a new concept, it is often helpful to use an analogy or a story to convey the information. Analogies allow the adult patient to relate new information to something they already know. For example, you might suggest that preventative screenings are much like the preventative maintenance you do for your car that helps the engine to run smoothly, avoid costly repairs in the future, and ensure your car continues to run for a long time. Again, you are respecting the knowledge that their past experiences have created.  

Using these simple techniques can help you, your fellow care team members, and your adult patient to learn together, achieve patient engagement that is meaningful to the care team and the patient, and improve patient health.

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