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Strengthening the patient engagement muscle

DHA’s health science specialist, Tyneka Rene, shows us how to build a culture of collaborative health care through increased patient engagement. DHA’s health science specialist, Tyneka Rene, shows us how to build a culture of collaborative health care through increased patient engagement.

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Patient engagement is an essential part of health care. When patients are involved in their own care, it supports lifelong health in the same way that strong bones support the body.

Yet engagement is like a muscle that patients and health care professionals must strengthen and sustain. To enhance treatment and communication, providers, health administrators and staff must become something like personal trainers in the realm of patient awareness and action.

Spotting Engagement Weak Points

Engagement is about more than patient compliance or following orders. It is a state of action, in which patients become willing and able collaborators in their health care experience.

One obstacle to increasing engagement is the initial discomfort that many patients feel when prompted to become a partner in their care. For example, a patient’s digital skills might be limited, hindering their ability to use emerging health care apps. Others may be fluent with technology, but are unconvinced that such tools will be effective or convenient for them.

These patients aren’t necessarily less invested in their health. They simply have not learned the basic “exercises” of patient engagement. Learning new techniques requires overcoming the habit of inactivity in health care decisions.

Finding the Engagement Sweet Spot

Each type of patient requires a different training plan to increase engagement, but some tools have the potential for more general application. DHA Connected Health’s podcast “A Better Night’s Sleep,” which I helped produce along with Dr. Julie Kinn, is one of those tools that can benefit a broad audience.

The platform is a promising patient engagement tool for a couple of reasons:

  • The topic is universal.
  • Podcast app interfaces are simple enough for digital novices to use and advanced enough to engage digital natives.

By listening to leading experts and learning ways to improve sleep habits, both groups get the “reps” they need to build mental muscles for engagement. It is a stepping stone to more in-depth exploration of their own health.

Building a Culture of Engagement

As health care professionals, we must recognize that patient engagement is everybody’s job. It can feel like a long, uphill climb. But just as everyone is capable of building muscle through regular exercise, everyone has the ability to become more engaged in one’s own care through consistent encouragement and guidance.

By focusing on small gains and consistent messaging at every level of the health care team, we can develop a system that is truly patient-centric and encourages patients to co-create their health care experience. The results: better outcomes, higher satisfaction, lower cost. These payoffs are all worth the sweat and hard work.

How do you ensure your patients are engaged?

Tyneka Rene, MHA, is a health science specialist at the Defense Health Agency. She provides clinicians technical consultation, guidance, education and training to improve quality of life for service members and their families.

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