If you’re a practicing rehab therapist, you probably don’t need data to tell you that engaged patients tend to achieve better outcomes than their non-engaged peers. But while the engagement-outcomes connection is fairly obvious, the reasons behind it may not be. By understanding those reasons, you can apply engagement strategies that foster better behavior in all of your patients—thus allowing them to achieve even better outcomes. And as pay-for-performance takes the throne as the dominant payment paradigm in the US healthcare system, outcomes are even more crucial—with respect to not only your patients’ well being, but also your practice’s. With that in mind, here are five reasons why patient engagement drives optimal outcomes.

1. Engaged patients are proactive—rather than reactive—about their health.

By and large, the earlier you catch and address a problem, the easier it is to fix. And when it comes to resolving health issues, engaged patients are not put-it-off-until-tomorrow kind of people. Their procrastinating counterparts, on the other hand, are more likely to delay seeking care until those issues have become way more serious—which means treatment will be much more complex. “Less activated patients are…three times as likely to have unmet medical needs and twice as likely to delay medical care, compared with more activated patients,” reports this article published in Health Affairs. Unfortunately, these patients will be less likely to achieve outstanding outcomes—even if they suddenly become the most engaged patients in the world—because their conditions are much more severe from the get-go.

2. Engaged patients are invested in their treatment.

As a therapist, you feel accomplished when patients achieve positive outcomes—and disappointed when they don’t. When you’re working with engaged patients, those emotions aren’t a one-way street, because these patients are just as invested in their treatment as you are. They take true ownership of their care plans and make an effort to collaborate with you as you develop and execute those plans. These are the patients who ask thoughtful questions in a genuine attempt to grasp the clinical concepts related to their conditions and treatment. In essence, they want to participate in their care, rather than merely receive it. And that participation allows you, as a practitioner, to glean the insight necessary to provide treatment that is truly tailored to the patient’s individual wants and needs. “Highly activated patients may have the skills and confidence to elicit what they need from their providers,” the Health Affairs article explains.

Of course, engagement is a two-way street; if you don’t give your patients the opportunity to participate, they are less likely to speak up. “Patient engagement starts and ends with patient-centered care,” Ryan Klepps, PT, DPT, writes in this post. “Patient-centered care is, at its simplest, offering the patient equal say in the decision making process…If we as clinicians offer patients a seat at the table, and simply find out what they want, we are engaging them.”  

3. Engaged patients understand the value of their treatment with regards to their overall health.

This is where the difference between compliance and engagement comes into the picture. While compliant patients understand that they need to adhere to their treatment plans—and are diligent about coming to therapy and completing their home exercise programs—engaged patients understand why they must do those things. In other words, they see a direct connection between their treatment and their health status—in both the short term and the long term. This is why it’s so important to fully explain conditions to patients (in terms they can actually understand), involve them in the creation of their care plans, and highlight improvement as they progress toward their goals. All of these things reinforce the value of your services, foster patient buy-in, and drive patient satisfaction: “…a consumer will be satisfied if he considers the services valuable,” Klepps writes.

4. Engaged patients recognize that their actions outside of treatment impact their health outcomes.

Obviously, you can’t control your patients’ day-to-day choices, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of those decisions affect—either directly or indirectly—their ability to achieve the best possible therapy outcomes. To continue on the theme of compliance versus engagement, “We use patient engagement to denote a broader concept that includes activation; the interventions designed to increase activation; and patients’ resulting behavior, such as obtaining preventive care or engaging in regular physical exercise,” the Health Affairs article notes. “The focus on activation and engagement rather than compliance recognizes that patients manage their health on their own the vast majority of the time, making decisions daily that affect their health and costs.” Patients who adhere to their treatment plans—but make poor decisions in other health-related areas—likely will not achieve the outcomes they could have experienced if they had made good health-related decisions. For example, a patient who chooses to exercise regularly and eat a healthy and balanced diet has a better chance of achieving optimal outcomes in all areas of health.

5. Engaged patients are more likely to research their treatment options and seek care from the best, most qualified providers available.

As the Health Affairs article points out, patient engagement is about “…having the knowledge, skill, and confidence to manage one’s health and health care.” Modern healthcare consumers are just that—consumers. With the advent of resources like online ratings and reviews, patients increasingly are taking their health care into their own hands. And now that direct access to physical therapy is a reality in all 50 states, patients are able to chart their paths to therapy without having to go through their physicians. So, it should come as no surprise that the most engaged patients—the ones most actively involved and invested in their health—will seek out the best healthcare providers. That, in turn, gives them a potential leg-up in the outcomes game.


Okay, now that you’ve got a handle on the link between patient engagement and optimal outcomes, you’re probably wondering what you can do to influence that relationship in a positive way. Lucky for you, we’re devoting this entire month to helping you beef up patient engagement in your practice. Stay tuned to the WebPT Blog to learn a variety of tips and tricks for stepping up your engagement game.