It’s no secret that engaged patients tend to achieve better outcomes than those who are less engaged with the process—and that patient engagement has been a bugaboo in the rehab therapy space for as long as there have been patients. For all their efforts, therapists can feel frustrated with the differing levels of engagement from their various patients and their inability to improve outcomes for those who don’t fully buy into a plan of care. Most therapists are passionate enough to try and overcome any objections with the aim of keeping their clients engaged and helping them achieve their goals for recovery, but it’s certainly tempting to throw up your hands and leave those reticent patients to their own devices.
We might not be able to help motivate your patients, but we’re giving you five reasons why you should keep up the good fight and keep encouraging patients to get engaged with their treatment.
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 improved health 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 should incentivize every clinician to strive towards building trust and generating the best patient outcomes—and turning those happy patients into referral sources, online reviewers, and social media evangelists who will direct other engaged patients to your practice.
Now that we’ve highlighted the link between therapist-patient engagement and optimal outcomes, you’re probably wondering how you can improve patient engagement at your practice. That’s why we’ve created this handy Checklist for an Ideal Practice Experience to help provide patient engagement strategies and show you you can improve your workflows to aid patient activation—and make things easier for your providers in the process.