eHealth Equity


Patient Engagement: 4 Strategies for Building a Patient-Provider Coalition

Patient Engagement: 4 Strategies for Building a Patient-Provider Coalition
April 14
10:27 2014

“Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Racial and ethnic disparities persist across the U.S. health system. But there is a lot of excitement concerning health care payment and system reform across the country. This includes the opportunities to address alarming health disparities and inequities that currently plague our society.

From the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to the Health Information Technology and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), health care practitioners and doctors are changing the way they deliver care so that patients and their families have the best patient experience and clinical outcomes.  However, this cannot happen without engaged patients and family members.

What is Patient Engagement?

Simply put, patient engagement refers to involving patients in the decision-making of their health and health care. Patient engagement has been identified as the “miracle drug” to ensure the health care system moves in a way that improves access and quality of care, and at the same time reduce health care costs, for all.

Efforts are underway to increase participation and decision-making by patients and their families; But true reform won’t happen if there isn’t a multicultural approach when discussing strategies for engaging patients. Minorities are the fastest growing segment of the American population, currently making up 37 percent of the total population, and projected to become the majority by 2020. Hence:

“It is important that we look at patients as partners in their health care management, and not placing prejudice on their ability to understand “just what the doctor ordered.”

Why Cultural Relevance Matters

The need for “cultural competence” has been well documented as an essential strategy to increase patient engagement in a way that empowers patients and their families across communities of color to make better-informed decisions and ways to manage their health and health care.

However, a number of e-health tools and other digital technologies lack cultural relevance and appropriateness for communities of color.  Among communities of color, the patient-provider relationship must have a strong foundation that is rooted in trust. Remember that minority communities, especially African Americans, have a long history of falling victim to medical science, and the health system in the U.S.

Hence, patient engagement for these communities goes beyond the current standard; it should be regarded as an effort to drive coalition building between them, and the health care professionals they interact with.

Personal relationships and attention to life experiences, among others, are key factors to ensuring that communities of color experience true patient engagement across our shifting health care system.

Providers can use the following strategies (four Cs), to build and strengthen engagement and collaboration, with patients of color.

The four Cs to the Patient-Provider Coalition

#1. Create: As a provider, you create the coalition or the relationship when the patient or family member interacts with the health care system.

This may be the result of an emergent or general health care need of the patient. You also want to use this opportunity to strategize and describe a path for working with the patient and his or her family members throughout their health care journey.

#2. Connect: This is all about managing communications and building trust. Identify other team members who can help to build trust, and then connect the patient and their loved ones to relevant community resources.

For communities of color, health goes beyond access to care. Quality of life, and access to appropriate food or transportation, among other socioeconomic considerations are equally important to health status. This can be as simple as providing a referral to a social services agency or offering on-site brochures or mobile applications that link them to community resources.

This edifies the foundation for building trust and mutual respect between the patient and the health care team.

#3. Celebrate: Acknowledge your patients’ accomplishments and successes. This emphasizes that a relationship exists.

Whether it’s acknowledging your patient’s upcoming birthday (or one just passed), it’s important to convey that you’re making an effort to demonstrate a relationship. Also celebrate their health care successes, whether it’s an improvement in their hemoglobin A1Cs, or cholesterol numbers.

Building new relationships and working to improve existing ones is important to the success of the coalition.

#4. Commit: Commit to maintaining your patient coalition. This requires modifying or adjusting your organizational structure and workflows to do patient check-ins and follow-ups prior to a scheduled appointment or office visit. (By the way this part is crucial – I recall my dentist doing this, and it held me accountable, and increased my motivation to stick to the suggested regimen).

When addressing patient engagement for communities of color, there are 3 things to consider:

  • Is this culturally appropriate?
  • Have you included the patient and their family members in establishing achievable health care goals from the beginning?
  • Is leadership and accountability shared between the patient and provider(s) to achieve certain health care goals?

Through the Affordable Care Act, millions of newly insured Americans will have access to health care. For many of them, the provider-patient dynamic will be a new experience.

If we want to improve health care quality and outcomes for our patients, it requires effective communication and processes that view patients as both partners and leaders in their health care.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on patient-provider coalitions, and your organization’s approach to improving engagement with patients of color?

Image Credit: iStockphoto

About Author

Fadesola Adetosoye

Fadesola Adetosoye

Public Affairs Manager, Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT at US Department of HHS.

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