“Our patients don’t come back for routine reviews — they’re not interested in chronic disease management” is a comment all too frequently made by practice managers and nurses across Australia.
This is not to say practice managers and nurses are wrong. If you’ve spent some time in healthcare you would no doubt have seen the struggle practitioners go through to get patients proactively engaged with their own health.
Yet, we know 50% of patients have at least one chronic condition, and many have more than one condition, with those suffering from multiple conditions often being forced to balance a complex array of care needs.
We know patient engagement is an integral part of primary health care. And, we know engaged patients are better equipped to make informed decisions about their health care options. Yet, time and time again patients appear to go it alone.
So, why are such patients so often disengaged?
Often this detached level of patient engagement comes down to how a practice operates behind the scenes. The fact is, engagement isn’t a one off conversation or a great theoretical plan. It is an intentional action, requiring a dedicated team of healthcare professionals going out of their way to seek out new opportunities to improve engagement with patients.
But, what does that actually mean? Well, here are four key factors that can improve patient engagement in any general practice.
1. Strong, committed senior leadership
It is the leadership team that creates your practice culture. When the leadership team is committed to patient engagement and is actively seeking new opportunities to engage patients, or recognises the value of investing in others to increase their capacity to engage patients, the culture of the entire clinic shifts.
Over time patients begin to take notice of this heightened level of care and, as more and more patients become aware of this, word of mouth begins to spread.
2. Building staff capacity
Patient engagement isn’t just something we can master overnight. It is a learned skill. It involves equipping the entire practice team with the tools and techniques that help improve engagement.
These tools and techniques are especially vital for those clinicians engaged in chronic disease management. Chronic disease management extends beyond just filling in templates to ensure Medicare compliance. It involves delivering patient-centred care whereby practitioners provide care for patients and their families in a way that is respectful and meaningful to an individual patient’s preferences, values and needs.
Dr. Harvey Picker famously broke these needs down into eight categories in 1993.
3. Regular monitoring and feedback reporting
Monitoring patient engagement is understanding what patients attend for what, and more importantly, making a note when patients don’t attend. Often the best place to start when monitoring patients is with those managing a chronic disease. Take a dive into your patient booking schedules. Which disease states have the best uptake of patient attendance? What brings in the most recalls, letters being sent, or text reminders?
Now, have a think why. Is it because of the severity of the disease, or because the management plan is more simple to adhere to? Is it because your practice makes a point of offering additional support to this particular disease, or is it something else?
By getting to understand what is working your team can start to test whether similar techniques improve patient engagement across other conditions.
4. Culture strongly supportive of change and learning
Another consideration when you’re looking to improve patient engagement at your practice is to consider the flexibility of your practice culture when it comes to embracing new ideas and knowledge.
The fact is, increasing patient engagement requires a change in the way things are done. It takes a shift from simply ‘doing’ chronic disease management to being a part of the patient journey through developing tailored patient-centred care plans. This will almost always require staff regularly learning new skills and making sure they have the time, space and supportive environment needed to develop and master these skills.