By Ginny Adams, RN, BSN, MPH, CPHRM, Coverys Senior Risk Consultant

Today’s healthcare practitioners have successfully moved from doing “to” patients, to doing “for” patients. The next step is to do things “with” the patient. Following are seven tips to help you make the critical shift to purposeful patient engagement.
  1. Seize the opportunity to empower your patient. Understand the opportunity you have to change the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness that a patient can feel when receiving a significant diagnosis, like cancer. Do what you can to make the conversation as positive an experience as possible for the patient. It is a rare privilege to have this kind of ability to help people during their most critical and vulnerable moments. 
  2. Start listening to the language you use. Talk more about what you can do for and with your patient, not to them. Ask more questions, and do more listening, which is an important form of respect. And try out methodologies like the teach-back approach, where you ask the patient repeat back what you’ve explained to ensure they understand.
  3. Be careful about assumptions. Don’t assume your patient understands your recommendations or will remember what you just talked about. And don’t assume blind compliance with your treatment plan if the patient doesn’t give you strong assurances that they are in 100 percent agreement with your approach. (See our article “The Importance of Patient Engagement” for more on this topic.)
  4. Expand the patient relationship to include other decision-makers. There are often other people, such as spouses and friends, who will have significant influence on how the patient perceives their relationship with you and how or whether they comply with the agreed-upon treatment approach. Think about the questions and concerns of these influencers, and seek to include them in HIPAA-compliant ways.
  5. Don’t be intimidated by online research. A patient who’s doing their own research is an engaged patient who wants the same things you want ― the right approach and the ideal outcome. Encourage your patient to consult the list of questions they brought with them, and ask at the end of the appointment, “Have we covered everything you wanted to address today?”
  6. Let shared decision-making be your default. Unless there is only one possible approach to a medical situation and/or the patient presents in emergent or critical condition, decision-making should be shared, thoughtful, and aligned with the patient’s values and preferences.
  7. Stock your office with materials and aids to assist in sharing decision-making. Keep diagrams, models, charts, handouts, videos, web-based tools, and brochures on common conditions readily at hand. Studies show that the use of patient decision aids for a range of preference-sensitive decisions led to increased knowledge, more accurate risk perceptions, a greater number of decisions consistent with patients’ values, a reduced level of internal decisional conflict for patients, and fewer patients remaining passive or undecided.

No legal or medical advice intended. This post includes general risk management guidelines. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal or medical developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal or medical advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances.