Patient Engagement: The Tipping Point of Change

Linkedin has a discussion on patient engagement (HERE) based on a Forbes article titled “Blockbuster Drug or Snake Oil?“. 

Paul Van Hoesen commented. His primary message being, evidence based medicine and coordinated care would likely deliver better outcomes. He also addressed Patient Engagement and how especially with surgical patients their engagement experiences were telling. He ends his comment with the following:

“In the meantime we have a generation of patients waiting for someone to take the time to tell, take the time to listen, take the time to engage.”

This struck a resonant chord with me. I am reading Ken Robinson’s The Element How Your Passion Changes Everything. The book is a series of stories about how people discovered their element or the zone for what drives them and gives them the motivation and energy to achieve. He calls it passion (personally it is an overused term). But my point is that I see a parallel between this book and Paul’s comment. 

Using Google’s ngram viewer and entering “patient engagement” between 2001 to 2008 the term was found .00000024% in 2001 and .0000006% in 2008. Albeit this is a very small number but consider ngram searches a “corpus of books” over the period selected. That is the simplest application of ngram. There are many other methods to append a phrase or term but for now frequency of patient engagement between between 2001 to 2008 this provides a sense of its pervasiveness. 

A Google search of patient engagement returned 13,500,000 results. A PubMed search returned 4,993 results. And just for kicks Google Scholar returned 640,000 results. Patient engagement exists. The literature addresses the benefits of patient engagement, how to achieve it, what do with it, etc. etc. We are not short on what patient engagement is and what it can accomplish or in many cases what it won’t accomplish. What we are missing is what Paul’s comment hints at, the reality of real patients wanting to engage. 

We know there is a large, dynamic, and engaged group of consumers/patients who are using the Internet to manage their health and this is not limited to self-help. Caregivers are among the largest group using the Internet to search for knowledge about healthcare for a loved one. What all these consumers/patients have in common is the desire to find solutions to healthcare problems they or a loved one is facing. They want knowledge. And they are finding it,sharing with others, and at times sharing with their HCP. But there is something missing here. 

This large and to Paul’s point an entire generation of patients who are finding knowledge and learning about healthcare they are longing to be engaged in order to be guided.They want to share what they’ve learned with their HCP. They are seeking to add more knowledge to what they’ve learned or replace non-EBM knowledge with better knowledge. They are looking to be active, receptive, and ready to manage their health and healthcare. Sounds obvious. It is. But are we harvesting that for the greater good?

Consider these patients/consumers learners. They are in a zone. They have a passion. They are not unlike children who are wide eyed and eager to use what they’ve learned. They are a perfect example of how the HCP, providers, insurance companies, and other patients like them can be motivated to take action. They want to reside in an environment where they can be inspired to improve their health. Otherwise why would they spend time searching and trying to solve their healthcare problems. The active engagement of these learners in their healthcare will change the fabric of the relationship with their HCP, the institution, and insurer.  
It is time we look at patient engagement less like a clinical trial and more like harvesting a rich crop of patients who will be at the heart of our future healthcare. They are a tip of our collective path to improve our healthcare.