These days the phrase ‘patient engagement’ is used wherever anyone is talking about the future of health care. It seems fair to ask what we were doing before this idea got so fashionable: weren’t we engaged when we were in a health care setting. It certainly seemed like it when the nurse drew blood or when that broken arm was set. So why is there this sudden interest in ‘engaging’ all of us in our own care?
As usual with our changing health care system, it’s important to know that this is about cost. There are many opinions about health care reform but few people argue that our country needs more cost effective care. If the need is growing and there is pressure to reduce expenses, the solution is to be more cost effective: to get better results at lower cost.
It’s ok to ask questions and speak up. When people are engaged with their care, that is exactly what happens: they incur lower costs. Their insight into their own personal health may hold the answer to a puzzled physician. Speaking up isn’t a bad thing it’s a good thing: involved patients are healthier. The data tells us all this but we don’t need anyone to tell us why, because it makes sense. We all know people who should be more concerned about their health—the friend who ends up in a crisis because they put off seeing a doctor for too long, the family member who gets sick after years of putting their health at risk by being overweight and inactive, by smoking and ignoring
So how do we all get to be engaged patients? It comes down to two basic ideas—getting more educated and getting more involved. The first means that we all understand more about the issues around our own health and not only ask questions but get explanations that we understand. The second is a matter of having a voice and a role in our own care. To many of us who usually don’t do more than answer questions in a clinic or doctor’s office, this can take a little practice- and it can be the very thing that prevents us from getting well. .
Many of us feel nervous talking to doctors or nurses about our health, even when everything is fine. The good news is that our health care providers are changing as well, and we really don’t need to be scared—ever—to speak up as a member of our own health care team. Now we know that being engaged is good for us—and even for the country.