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Debunking 3 Common Patient Engagement Myths

Widespread patient engagement myths may lead providers down the wrong path to selecting patient-centered care strategies.

Patient engagement myths should be debunked to improve patient care.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Numerous and often conflicting patient-centered care strategies have given rise to a number of patient engagement myths. More healthcare experts than ever are espousing their patient care knowledge, leading to nebulous assertions about which patients are best suited for which patient engagement efforts.

This issue is worsened by the subjective interpersonal nature of patient engagement. At its core, patient-centered care means putting the patient first and building strong relationships and partnerships between patient and clinician.

Because there is not necessarily one singular correct method for relationship-building, industry experts have preached many different strategies.

However, this has also given rise to many pieces of misinformation. These myths may lead to clinicians taking incorrect action, yielding limited patient engagement and missed opportunities.

These myths primarily pertain to patients and the target demographics for various patient engagement strategies. While it is important for clinicians to be mindful of the impactability of their various engagement efforts, they should not limit themselves based on inaccurate preconceived notions.

Myth: patient engagement is for chronic disease patients

READ MORE: What Providers Should Know to Improve Patient Access to Healthcare

Patient engagement is often praised as the key to effective chronic care management. The relationship between patient activation and chronic care self-management is easy to identify, with patients who are more involved in their care being more attentive to care plans.

However, while patient activation is helpful for the most at-risk patient populations, these efforts should not be limited to chronic disease treatment. Patient engagement is beneficial for all patients and can help low-risk patients prevent a future chronic care episode.

Conducting outreach to drive preventive care and to understand a patient’s social determinants of health will help healthcare organizations prevent disease in currently healthy patients, according to Heritage Provider Networks President Mark Wagar.

“It’s not enough to be really good when somebody falls in your door,” Wagar asserted in a previous interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “It’s in fact as important, if not more important, to be able to figure out how to work with them to improve their general health status so that they have fewer events where they fall in the door.”

Strong primary and preventive care should be the focal point of patient engagement for relatively healthy patients. Providers want patients activated in their health and taking care of themselves, ensuring that if patients do fall ill, clinicians detect the symptoms early and mitigate the issue as quickly as possible.

READ MORE: Patient Portal Use Lagging Despite Strong Provider Support

Expanded patient engagement and primary care access due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has improved preventive care rates. Since the ACA established free annual wellness visits for all patients, preventive care rates have increased from 59 percent to 73 percent, according to data published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Healthcare professionals can also engage healthier populations through wellness incentives using mHealth and wearable tools. Patients can receive tangible or intangible rewards for maintaining their health and potentially preventing eventual chronic illness by meeting certain benchmarks.

Myth: patient portals, technology are only for young patients

Although patient portals are deemed an essential piece of technology for patient engagement, providers suffer from the misconception that only younger patients want to adopt the tools.

In reality, patient portals are just as popular among older populations as they are with younger populations.

Data published in 2016 by athenaResearch indicated that senior patients were utilizing patient portals at equal rates as their younger counterparts. Nearly 30 percent of patients over the age of 65 had adopted the tools, the researchers found.

READ MORE: Patients Seek More Support with Chronic Disease Management

“If you look at patients in their 60s and up to 65, a lot of those patients are still in the workforce. They’ve had iPhones for 10 years since they were in their mid-50s,” explained athenaResearch Manager David Clain.

“A lot of those patients are comfortable with using technology. A patient portal may be a new approach to working with their physicians in a way that they didn’t do before, but patients are comfortable getting online, they’re comfortable using their phones to get on a portal, or using a computer,” Clain continued.

Other research indicates that patients with low technology literacy are slow to adopt the patient portal. While this data may be valid, many healthcare professionals maintain that proper patient education can help these patients take advantage of patient-facing technology.

Low digital health literacy and limited familiarity with technology should not preclude patient use, said John Tiberi, MD, a Los Angeles-based orthopaedic surgeon.

“All kinds of patients are asking for technology,” Tiberi explained in a previous interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “I had a lot of thoughts about whether [technology] would be prohibitive for patients who may not be as familiar with technology, particularly with my patient population – elective hip and knee replacement tends to be older people. But I’ve run into almost no instances of that.”

Instead, Tiberi has worked with patients to better understand patient engagement technology and customized the tools to meet unique patient needs.

Patients can better navigate these tools when they are intuitive and include only the features and information important to them specifically.

Myth: noncompliant chronic disease patients are lazy

Encountering a patient who does not adhere to a treatment plan or who is noncompliant is a significant patient engagement challenge. It is easy for clinicians to grow frustrated in these instances and simply label a patient as ambivalent.

However, chronic disease management expert Lisa Roome-Rago cautioned against that attitude.

“People don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘I’m not going to follow what my doctor told me to do today,’” asserted Roome-Rago, who is Advocate Health Care’s Director of Enterprise Outpatient Care Management. “It’s a matter of figuring out what’s actually going on and then trying to create a plan around that and minimize as many barriers as you can.”

After doing some digging, clinicians may find that a patient does not take her medication because she cannot afford it. It’s the clinician’s job to help the patient overcome that barrier.

In the medication example, clinicians can suggest generic drugs or help patients prioritize essential drugs over less critical medications.

“Patients who are not following their treatment plan oftentimes get labeled as non-compliant,” Roome-Rago said. “Our job is to better understand that.”

Clinicians who understand those barriers, as well as the truth behind other patient engagement myths, will better be able to target their engagement strategies. Patient care often suffers when providers assume patients will not be receptive to a certain type of care.

Providers need to identify and understand the truth behind healthcare misconceptions to make patient engagement meaningful for the largest number of patients.

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