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Does Patient Engagement Need A Definition?

Posted by Kendall Antekeier on May 28, 2013 4:44:08 AM

A few weeks ago on Engaging the Patient, we touched on the “patient engagement enigma,” and the lack of consensus among industry professionals about the term’s definition – and the point seems to be catching on.

We’ve seen articles offering definitions of patient engagement, and others that simply reinforce the idea that so many of us spend our day-to-day in search of how to most effectively engage patients, and yet there’s no real conclusion of what that is.

A recent article in Venture Beat discussed, “What Do We Mean When We Talk About Patient Engagement,” stating:


"Since health care entrepreneurship became “sexy,” people are consistently using the term “patient engagement” at health technology conferences. But what exactly does this mean? Like online consumer engagement, is it simply when a company maintains a relationship with a patient through technology? Since this is health care and situations are often complicated, there is little consensus over the definition of a term that everyone is using.”

However, the article goes on to conclude there doesn't need to be just one definition of patient engagement but, when discussed, it should widely encompass many different factors.

“For patient engagement, there should be a more robust definition that includes positive health outcomes, where engagement encompasses interactions with technology that lead to some ancillary or direct health benefit."

Now, it is evident that the article is written from a standpoint of patient engagement derived from technology, and this is a common discussion amongst innovators – who can create the next best thing to engage patients?

But I consider this kind of approach too simple; missing a significant point that will leave innovators continuously searching if “the next best thing” is their sole ambition.

In reality, whatever technology is developed for patient engagement, it must be designed with the understanding that technology is only a tool. So much more must go on outside of the technology alone for true patient engagement to occur.

Surely technology helps maximize the potential for patient engagement, but engagement goes beyond the technology, and most importantly depends upon the partnership of patients and providers.

From an innovator standpoint, when we think of patient engagement and develop and promote engagement solutions, we should simply be able to prove, without hesitation, that our products produce results and improve care.

But, in the all-encompassing idea of patient engagement, there’s not just one simple definition.

Patient engagement is more than technology - and it’s definitely not “merely creating products that people want to use.”

Patient engagement is:

  • The conversation a patient has with a family member or friend about their health
  • When a patient looks up information online
  • When a patient considers how to live a healthy lifestyle
  • Considering seeing a healthcare professional
  • Seeing a health professional
  • Communicating about concerns, questions, and interests about health with those closest to you – professional or personal
  • Interacting with technology to more greatly understand conditions or procedures
  • Deciding to make healthy living a habit – even on the days when there are setbacks

There doesn't need to be just one definition – and there isn't.

In the simplest sense, we should remove “patient” and just understand that engagement is whatever it takes.

Whatever it takes to:

Improve understanding.
Improve communication.
Improve delivery.
Improve consumption, retention, and compliance.

To improve health.

And that requires engagement of patient, provider, technology partner, and everyone involved in an individual’s well-being.

Topics: patient engagement

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Both news and opinion, our blog, "Engaging the Patient" is designed to connect healthcare leaders with peers who are making patient engagement a reality.

This is a place where high profile healthcare experts write about their work and their goals. Our topics might vary from day to day but our focus remains constant. We believe patients are the biggest untapped resource in healthcare and we are searching for ideas and stories of new, innovative ways to make patient engagement a reality every day.

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