Patient Engagement: When is a Patient Truly Engaged?

To understand whether a patient is engaged you first need to understand what that really means.   There are several layers to patient engagement that must be in play for a patient to be truly engaged in their healthcare.  In a recent document published by the World Health Organization titled “Patient Engagement: Technical Series on Safer Primary Care” they defined patient engagement as: The process of building the capacity of patients, families, carers, as well as health care providers, to facilitate and support the active involvement of patients in their own care, in order to enhance safety, quality and people-centredness of health care service delivery. Let’s break that down.

The first few words that strike me are “building the capacity.”  The most relevant definition for the word “building” I found on is “to establish, increase, or strengthen.”  Likewise, the definition of capacity found on the same site was “ability; competency.”  In reference to patient engagement, the World Health Organization begins its definition as the process of increasing or strengthening the ability of patients, families, caregivers and health care providers.

Many healthcare workers have mistakenly thought of patient engagement as the patient carrying out some act that connects them to the provider.  According to the World Health Organization (who I will refer to as WHO from this point forward), patient engagement is, instead, a process in which someone strengthens the ability of one or all of the parties involved in the patient’s health, be it the patient, the family, the caregiver or the healthcare provider.

WHO goes on to define patient engagement by saying that in addition to building capacity we should also “facilitate and support the active involvement of patients.”  Once again, let’s break this down.  Facilitate is defined by as “assist the progress of” and support is defined as “help, approval”.  So, if we breakdown the definition of patient engagement as WHO puts it forth in this document, we know it to be this:

“To increase and strengthen the ability of all parties involved by assisting the progress and helping patients be actively involved in their own care.”

And why are we doing this?

              “to enhance safety, quality and people-centredness of health care service delivery.”

When we begin to look at patient engagement in this way, we will truly understand that it’s more of a movement of the entire industry and not simply the action of one patient.  Until the healthcare industry embraces patient engagement as the very core motivation for doing what we do, we will not be able to achieve our goals.  We must strive tirelessly, without ceasing to achieve this goal to effect change.

So, when is a patient truly engaged?

When they have an increased or strengthened ability to, with the assistance and support of their physician, family or caregiver, be actively involved in their own care.  Having this better understanding of what patient engagement is will allow us to understand the key components of getting those patients more engaged.

Stay tuned as we continue to dive into true patient engagement over the next few weeks.