The concept of patient engagement is easy to understand, and the need for it is clear. In a nutshell, if patients are involved in their care, we can improve clinical outcomes and a plethora of other metrics. Simple enough. But the challenges come from actually changing our behavior to activate our patients. How do we engage people who are not at their best? They don’t feel well. They are likely overwhelmed with information and actions they need to take.
The first step is to ask these simple questions: Am I doing things for you? Or am I doing things with you? If you think about it, most caregivers spend their days doing things for patients --administering medication, monitoring vital signs, repositioning, starting IV’s, etc. Those are all necessary and appropriate actions to take for your patient.
But there are also activities that we should do with our patients -- creating a home care plan, evaluating post-acute care options, learning to administer medications safely and change my own dressings, etc. When patients are engaged in decision-making and in learning health management strategies, their outcomes are better. We owe it to our patients to shift from always doing for them to doing things with them as appropriate.
Sometimes this shift can be difficult for healthcare providers. Why? There are plenty of possible reasons. We are the expert and therefore may believe we can make the best decision. Perhaps we doubt our patient’s ability to make critical decisions or master complex skills. Or, we might perceive that we can do it faster ourselves.
Although it is sometimes more difficult or time consuming to involve our patients in these activities, it is essential that we do so. There is an abundance of evidence that shows that patients who are active in their care decisions and management of their health have better clinical outcomes and require fewer acute episodes of care.
This shift is a simple first step toward increasing patient engagement. Of course, simple is not always easy. To get started, try this: Once each shift, review your task list for patient care. Place a star by the elements that should be done with your patients. The list could include anything in which a patient’s preference should be considered. It will also include any activity that advances your patient’s ability to manage their own care at home and administer their medications safely once they are no longer in your care.
If you take a few moments each shift to hardwire this reflective pause, I know you will reduce readmissions, earn higher marks on your HCAHPS Transitions of Care domain, and, most important of all, watch your patients achieve better clinical results.
Faye Sullivan is a registered nurse with more than 30 years of experience in various healthcare settings. Her varied background provides a sound foundation for her current passion of ensuring that leaders have the knowledge, skills and ability to achieve their goals.