Patient Engagement: What Is It Really?

patient_engagementWhen a patient worries about their health condition, is that engagement? What about when a patient tracks their condition with wearables? Is a provider required for patient engagement to happen? Or is it only engagement when a patient is taking action to improve their condition?

A few years ago, health IT strategist Leonard Kish called patient engagement the “blockbuster drug of the century.” At HIMSS last week, there were numerous presentations on patient engagement and countless vendors offering patient engagement solutions. Yet, there is still no clear agreement as to what exactly patient engagement is, what it does, and how to measure it.

Let’s try to fix that. This first post in the series will focus on what patient engagement is.

We’ll start by defining what a patient is. (Interestingly, the word “patient” originally meant ‘one who suffers’ according to Wikipedia). The most common definition of a patient is simply someone receiving medical care. Note there is a connotation of passiveness in the notion of receiving care. The other relevant point is that receiving care requires interaction with someone who is providing the care. That means patient engagement requires a provider, not just a patient alone. So to be a patient, all someone needs to do is accept care from a provider.

What is engagement? I see engagement in degrees, from caring to understanding to acting. A patient is minimally engaged by virtue of caring about her health. She is more engaged when you actively work to understand her health. And she is deeply engaged when she is taking action – doing things – with the intent of improving her health.

One more component to add: Most patient engagement definitions include: a) participation, use of resources, and interaction with a provider, b) a goal of positive health behaviors, and c) an end result of health management or health improvement.

Put in all together and we have this definition of patient engagement:

Active participation of a person in their health and healthcare, which includes using resources, working with their provider, and taking action to understand, manage and improve their health condition.

How does this definition work for you? Any suggestions for improvement?

Now that we have a good working definition, we can move on to what patient engagement does, and how to measure it. Stay tuned!

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