Building a Common Understanding

Patient Engagement: What is It and Why Should I Care

Last week I attended a panel on Patient Engagement hosted by Health 2.0 Atlanta. The debate was lively with lots of good conclusions drawn. One conclusion I want to discuss here is this: Patients may not understand the value of being engaged. I think this is a disconnect that needs to be addressed in order to make the most of patient engagement. disconnected2 Let me explain… Health 2.0 Atlanta is a local meetup connecting the thriving healthcare start-up community here in Atlanta. In the group were technologists, physicians and business people, all very invested in the topic of patient engagement. The questions (a mix of those posed by the moderator and others raised by the audience) were a bit of a blur and, as is often the case in these forums, blended into longish commentaries by one panelist or another. At one point the following question was raised: Is there any company successfully selling patient engagement products to patients? The answer highlighted the disconnect I’m talking about here:

No one in the meeting (regardless of role) could think of a single patient engagement-related business venture that was successfully marketing directly to patients.

Why is this a disconnect? We live in a capitalistic society. If the intended consumers perceive value, vendors create products to supply the demand. The absence of companies marketing patient engagement solutions directly to patients seems to indicate not enough “perception of value” on the part of the patient. Said a different way, if patient engagement is the “blockbuster drug of the century” and it’s the patients swallowing the pill, shouldn’t patients be lining up to get it? Or at least enough of them lining up to get it that at least one vendor would market products directly to them? There even seems to be some active resistance on the part of patients to becoming engaged. It seems to me that to correct this disconnect we need to help patients understand the answers to the following questions:

  • What does it mean to be engaged?
  • Why is it important to me as a patient to be engaged?

In looking for answers to these fundamental questions, I found any number of thoughtful responses from healthcare providers (example) and from vendors (examples here). Though each brings a different perspective, they find common ground on key points. Below I have synthesized their thoughts into the following table for your consideration.

Action/Responsibility Benefit of Engagement
Find Healthcare. Search for providers meeting your needs based on the information available to you. This includes specialty care when needed. While recommendations are good, it’s up to you to find the right physician. Physicians spend decades becoming experts in their fields. However, not all experts are the same. Finding the physician who specializes in the care that you need and with whom you can communicate easily will make your care much more successful.
Communicate with providers honestly and openly. You wouldn’t tell your mechanic that “everything’s fine” if your car didn’t start and lurched to the left every time you tried to drive a straight line. Why would you not tell your provider everything about your body? Without all the data, no physician can be assured of making an accurate diagnosis. Physicians are trained to allow for some of this, but the more information you provide, the better opportunity the physician has of diagnosing the condition and prescribing appropriate treatment.
Attend appointments and provide health records. Meet your obligations in terms of making your appointments. If the provider needs information from your other doctors, you must ensure it gets delivered from point A to point B. Physicians almost never suggest an appointment “for fun.” Chances are there is a good reason the appointment was requested.
Make informed decisions. At some point, you will be called upon to make a decision about your treatment based on options laid out by your physician. Don’t make a snap decision. Understand the ramifications and risks of all alternatives and then work with your physician to make the best and more informed decision for you. There have been several studies indicating that the more you know of the expected risks of a given treatment, the more effective that treatment is.
Make healthy life choices. Inform yourself about healthy living and diet and take care of your body. The healthier you are when you are forced to deal with difficult health issues, the easier your recovery will be from that inevitable health issue.
Pay for services. Medicine is a very special calling but one that must be maintained with fiscal responsibility. If physicians are not paid for their services, they cannot provide those services.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments. I strongly believe that if we can firm up answers to these questions and educate patients as early as possible in their care, we can lead patients to not only be willing to engage but to actively participate.


Keyton Weissinger is a 20-year veteran of IT with a keen focus on healthcare. In his role as VP of Innovation for Standard Register Healthcare, it's his job to watch and anticipate trends in healthcare, then to act as an entrepreneur-in-residence to spearhead development of solutions to emerging information and communication needs. Follow him on Twitter @PatientEngaged

Keyton Weissinger has 5 post(s) at

1 Comment

  • Keyton,

    Here’s a different perspective on engagement…

    Most patients are already engaged in their own health, albeit not necessarily in ways that clinicians recognize or agree with. Take the office visit. Before anyone steps foot in their doctor’s office they have already (1) investigated whether their health issue required a doctor’s visit – maybe they went online to do some research or maybe they talked with family or friends, (2) made a decision to seek care, (3) scheduled an appointment, (4) taken time off work and shown up for the appointment and (5) sat in the waiting area thinking about what they wanted to ask the doctor.

    With 82% of adults seeing their physician at least once a year – the average is 3 times a years…and twice that for people with chronic conditions…how can anyone conclude that patients are not engaged in their health care?

    Steve Wilkins
    Mind the Gap

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *