Shifting the Paradigm

Advancing Consumer Engagement through Coalition Building

Working in healthcare quality improvement, we often forget how frequently we ask providers to do something to improve the care they are delivering. Providers want to do what’s right and offer the best care possible for their patients but juggling the day-the-day demands of the job and also participating in various quality improvement initiatives can be daunting. Even more exhausting is when providers are asked to work on similar initiatives by different entities.

As a non-profit health care consulting firm and a Medicare Quality Improvement Organization, this is something we at Qualidigm witnessed five years ago locally in Connecticut. At that time, we were working aggressively with providers across the care continuum to reduce hospital readmissions in the state. Through our interactions, we quickly recognized that we weren’t the only group tackling this monster of a problem – state departments of public health, hospital networks and trade associations, just to name of few, also were addressing the issue head-on and asking providers to work with them.

Building a Coalition

We decided to develop a “coalition” with the sole purpose of aligning healthcare quality improvement issues in the state rather than duplicating them. We took a close look at the local stakeholders who also are doing similar work – in many cases, our competitors. We broached the idea of working together with each of them and were delighted that they saw value in bridging our like opportunities. We invited our new coalition members to meet and the majority showed up. We set ongoing monthly two hour meetings where each person introduced themselves and shared details about the healthcare quality improvement and/or patient safety initiative(s) involving their organization. This opened up the conversation and gave others at the table the opportunity to learn what one another were working on.

Setting a Purpose

Over time, the meetings were well attended and people shared, collaborated and supported one another–but the group needed something more–it needed a purpose. By polling the group, we found the number one common challenge among all members is patient engagement, or lack thereof.

Providers felt they didn’t know how to engage their patients and consumers didn’t know how to get engaged in their health and healthcare and feel empowered. Soon after we came to this realization, a study published in Health Affairs demonstrated that patients who actively participate in shared decision-making with healthcare providers have better outcomes and lower healthcare costs.

The Health Affairs study showed that of the 33,000 patients studied, researchers found that patients who did not actively participate in their healthcare had 8 percent to 21 percent higher costs than patients with high engagement levels. We knew we were on to something.

Formalizing the Coalition

With our purpose defined, we formalized the coalition, naming it the CT Partners for Health. This grassroots membership organization grew to more than 40 healthcare stakeholders from trade associations, providers, payers, behavioral health, consumer groups, academic institutions, voluntary health organizations and others. Together, our coalition developed a mission–to engage consumers to become active, informed partners in managing their health and healthcare–and created a governing board of directors.

As a group, we decided to bring to the region the first-patient engagement conference of its kind: the Better Health Conference. The goal of this educational forum was two-fold:

  1. Provide helpful information to empower consumers to manage their health and engage in the healthcare system to become a true partner with their medical team.
  2. Offer insights to healthcare providers about how to more effectively communicate with their patients–enabling them to better manage their own health care and outcomes.

Together, we identified topics and speakers that we thought would resonate with the audience based on the healthcare challenges we saw on daily basis and of course aligned with our patient engagement theme.

CT Partners for Health members worked collaboratively to identify topics to build the conference program and through our collective network and relationships secured local, national and international speakers. The conference included breakout sessions that offered tangible insights on issues like medication management, patient-centered care, advance care planning and emerging technologies for consumers to manage their health.

There was a lot of enlightenment from 600 consumers and providers in the audience. Conference evaluations were completed and data gathered from the evaluations showed that on average, 97 percent of the attendees felt the Better Health content and curriculum was useful.

As a result of attending the conference some examples of what attendees planned to do next include:

  • Share information with colleagues
  • Improve the partnership with my health care providers
  • Become more involved /aware in current health
  • Speak with my own physicians regarding some of the things I learned/saw

Attendees also said they wanted more education, more resources and more opportunities to learn. The feedback from the evaluations was crucial in developing the Better Health Conference. Thanks to the success of the program and the ongoing consumer need for more information, the program is now a yearly event.

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Listening is Key

A key lesson in planning this educational forum is listening to our audience about what topics they want to learn more about. Their feedback is the driver for the conference program. The CT Partners for Health is now working to increase education offerings to consumers with more frequency to address current topics impacting healthcare including the opioid crisis.

We liken the genesis of the CT Partners for Health to the old folk story Stone Soup–we can accomplish more when we pool our resources and work together. With each member’s contribution we are able to better help consumers be more enabled, empowered and engaged in their health and healthcare decisions.


Editor’s Note: The third annual Better Health Conference will be Friday, June 3, at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Visit the CT Partners for Health website ( to learn more about the program and conference speakers.


Anne Elwell Anne Elwell, RN, MPH has 25 years of extensive experience and proven success in healthcare quality improvement and patient safety with a focus on patient-centered care. Her area of professional specialization is in forming collaborations with leaders of hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies, physician practices, and other health care and community providers to improve communications and processes for patient transitions between health care settings. Ms. Elwell was instrumental in starting the CT Partners for Health, a group of more than 40 stakeholders in the healthcare industry, and serves as the President of its Board of Directors.

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