Kayser Enneking, MD Chair of Anesthesiology and SUF Quality Committee
We are constantly reminded of how medicine is changing; new therapies, new communication tools, new roles emerging. It is a complex and intimidating world for many of us to navigate and is incredibly difficult for most patients when they enter into our special enclave. Partnering with patients to help them navigate the shoals of modern medicine is one of our most fundamental obligations as healthcare providers. Our patients and their families should be fully invested in their journey to good health. How can we foster this partnership? I think of the 3 E’s: Engage, enlighten, and empower.
Engaging patients to become true partners in their health care requires a small first step, listening to the patient and to their concerns. The forces that bring any patient to our environment are a complex brew of concern, urgency, and expectations. Until you have listened to the patient and their concerns it is difficult to discern how they will respond to our expectations for them. Directly asking them to articulate their concerns and then listening to the response is a great way to begin the process of engagement. Addressing their concerns shows your active engagement.
What does an engaged patient look like? Well they keep a list of their current medications, they know who their doctors are, they write down their questions, they ask about medicines being given and therapies being proscribed. We need to let patients know that their engagement is key to their health. We need to enlighten patients about their role as a partner in their healthcare. They should not be a passive vessel that things happen to but an active partner who we do things for. This is a different model for many of our patients. Often time’s cultural differences or generational expectations influence patients behavior. As healthcare providers we have responsibility to enlighten patients about the importance of their engagement and the power that comes with this. We must enlighten ourselves to the barriers that prevent patients from becoming fully engaged. How do we do this? We can start each conversation by introducing ourselves during each visit, we can provide question prompt sheets, we can explicitly coach them about safety issues they should watch for hand washing, port swabbing, medication verification, and we can solicit their input into medical decision making. Letting the patient know that it is appropriate for them to be engaged sets a new level of trust between patient and provider. So enlighten your patients, let them know it is appropriate and helpful to have their partnership.
The power of the partnership. Patients who actively partner with their healthcare providers have fewer medical errors, lower anxiety levels and higher patient satisfaction. We can empower this partnering by actively engaging our patients, enlightening them and ourselves about barriers to engagement and truly empowering them to become our partners.