Dear Patient WIll You Marry Me?

Patient Engagement.jpg

Patient engagement. It’s another one of the many healthcare #buzzwords or as I like to say #hcflair that physicians, nurses, administrators, consultants, and many professional organizations use.

According to a Health Policy Brief in the February 14th, 2013 issue of Health Affairs, patient engagement refers to the people actively involved in their health and health care. It is important because this group of people tend to have better outcomes–and, some evidence suggests, lower costs.

In a May 2,2013 article entitled “This Is What Patient Engagement Really Is” on KevinMD.com by Dr. Robert Lamberts he states that patient engagement is about interaction, listening, and learning in relationship to another person.  Engagement is not a strategy, it is care.

When I think of the phrase engagement, I immediately begin to think of when two people decide to make a commitment to one another. A commitment to have, to hold, to listen, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

Most often my mind imagines that one person is kneeling holding a ring and asking the other person to enter into this relationship.

So I struggle with “patient engagement” because I have never seen a physician, a nurse, a hospital, a wellness clinic, or a healthcare system take the time to get to know my story, court me, and then ask for my hand in marriage, ahem, my life in sickness and health.

I have had them ask me the same questions everyone else does, what insurance do you have?

Where I really struggle is that I typically do not define myself as a patient. I define myself in a lot of other ways, but never really as a patient. As a matter of fact, I usually introduce myself as Andy in WI. Builder of hospitals and cancer centers; Designer of patient experiences (whatever that means); Developer of service lines; Global marketer; Advocate; Disruptor.

Amongst the many healthcare conferences, meetings, professional sessions, and vendor showcases I have only twice seen anyone introduce themselves as a patient. (in 14 years across the globe)

In online communities, there are definitely more people that do introduce themselves as a patient.

If we wait until people are patients, are we too late to engage them?

In my experience, it is not until we have our own “WTF is wrong with me?” moment, that we seek a medical professional to figure out and inform us on what is wrong. To generate an answer to our “what” question, a diagnosis.

It is not until we have a diagnosis that most of us consider ourselves to be a patient. Up until that point, we are just people living our lives, doing our daily activities, not caring about hospitals, physicians, nurses, and the healthcare system.

When we are in pain, sick, hurting, or told that we have a life altering diagnosis, are we ready to be married so quickly? Do we have time to date around and make sure we want to marry this physician or this hospital?

I have had many conversations over the past year with developers, vendors, healthcare organizations, administrators, physicians and other clinicians on this topic. Most jump to technology as being the key to “engaging” the patient.

However, when I talk to patients, it is a very different jump. It is more of a quantum leap.

Patients want things to be simple, easy, personal. Technology can compliment, but it is the personal connection that builds the relationship.

Patients want a relationship. They want to know that when it is 3am in the morning and they are feeling horrible that they can call and someone will be there to answer their questions. Patients want to know that if they leave and forget the conversation that someone wrote them a little note to remind them of the discussion. Patients want to know if they have reservations that their healthcare team is willing to listen, support, and offer them resources.

People build relationships. Relationships build trust. Trust builds engagement.

In my opinion if we are going to truly engage we need to begin prior to a diagnosis. We need to engage a community based on their needs, their challenges, and their problems.

Define the problems of a community. Understand the people. Then healthcare can prescribe the appropriate answer while treating patients as people.

As always, you can feel free to contact me at: CANCERGEEK@GMAIL.COM or follow me on twitter @cancergeek

~CancerGeek

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