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Patient Engagement vs. Patient Experience

Patient Engagement vs. Patient Experience


When walking through the show hall at HIMSS 2017 and other healthcare conferences, it may seem that the terms patient engagement and patient experience are interchangeable. In reality, though, these two terms describe separate and distinct interactions. Patient engagement speaks to individual points of patient/caregiver interaction. Patient experience, on the other hand, is the sum of all the engagements a patient has with healthcare. In order to make a patient’s experience better, we need to consider how all the patient engagements work together and whether or not patients and caregivers choose to engage.

Design engagements to work together

There are opportunities for patient engagement at every turn – before a person enters the healthcare setting, while being treated, and long after he or she has healed. With so many points of engagement, there are destined to be gaps or disconnects, making for a negative patient experience. At HIMSS 2017 Bridget Duffy, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Vocera, called for caregivers and healthcare technology companies to think and act holistically about the patient experience. We should create technologies and processes that work together, turning fragmented encounters into seamless patient experiences.

Importantly, these seamless patient experiences should be guided by empathy. Often the goal in healthcare is to strip out waste; Duffy argued that reducing waste isn’t enough – we need to add in empathy so patients and caregivers feel engaged during each interaction. “Empathy,” Duffy said, “doesn’t take more time.”

Engagement is a choice

It is necessary to remember that engagement is a choice. We can’t force patients to engage with caregivers, and vice versa. Adrienne Boissy, MD, MA, Chief Experience Officer at Cleveland Clinic Health System, shared at HIMSS 2017 that patients are often the most reluctant “customers” she’s ever met. One way to address this reluctance is to let patients design their own engagement experience. Offering choice to patients invites them to engage in their care.

This approach applies to caregivers as well. Duffy noted that we often inflict solutions on nurses and doctors without engaging them in the design process, and then are surprised when caregivers are slow to adopt. This challenge can be overcome simply by inviting caregivers to the design table and incorporating their insights.

Duffy shared an example of an operating team that would take time to introduce themselves individually to the patient and tell him or her exactly what each team member’s role was in the operation prior to starting surgery. This introduction helped the patient feel at ease. Once the patient was asleep, the team would repeat the introductions to each team member in order to build trust and respect. This approach was so successful at inviting engagement and improving the patient and caregiver experience that it was implemented hospital-wide.