Is Lack Of Patient Engagement Really The Problem Today?

Everywhere you turn in the health care literature these days we are told how physicians need to do a better job getting patients engaged in their own health.

But is lack of patient engagement really the problem?

If Patients Are In Their Doctor’s Office They Are Already Engaged…

Each year, 80%+ of U.S. adults visit their doctor’s office at least once a year.  The average number of physician visits for U.S. adults is 3 visit/year…double that if the person has multiple chronic conditions.

People don’t just magically “show up” in doctor’s offices.   A doctor’s visit is the result of a process of cognition, research, evaluation and decision making culminating in the patient decision to been seen by a doctor.

Already Engaged2


The first decision a person has to makes is whether they need to be seen by a doctor.  To help make this determination people might talk with family or friends.   A recent Wolters Kluwer poll on Health found that 50%of people who go online for health information do so before seeing their doctor.   The fact that only 75% of people with physical symptoms decide not to  see a doctor is a testament to peoples’ ability to discern what needs to be seen by a doctor and what doesn’t.

Next people must pick up the phone and make the appointment.   Then they must take time off and arrange to get to the appointment.  Finally people must show up for their appointment and wait…often thinking about the questions they need to ask the doctor.

Trip to Doctor Office


By the time a person gets up on the exam room table  they have already:

1)    Decided that then needed to see the doctor.

2)    Decided to make and keep their doctor’s appointment despite the self-talk that we will get better on our own.

3)    Decided upon a list of questions to  discuss with the doctor.

Now what about this suggests that people in their doctor’s office are not engaged in their health?

The Problem Today Is Not A Lack A Patient Engagement…But Rather Physicians Whose Patient Communication Skills Are Not Very Engaging

Let’s assume for a moment that you agree with the premise that patients are engaged as described about.   Now put yourself in the place of the typical patient and ask yourself how engaging it is when your doctor:

  • Interrupts you as you are trying to “tell your story?”
  • Asks your opinion as to what’s wrong or if you agree with their diagnosis
  • Ignores what you have to say
  • Avoids any discussion about your feelings
  • Limits you to 1 question per visit
  • Appears rushed

Chances are you wouldn’t feel this to be particularly engaging behavior any more than most people do.  But then this is how the vast majority of physicians were taught how to talk to patients in medical school, e.g., where the physician’s focus was on the illness a person had…not the person with an illness.

So What’s The Solution?

The solution lies in teaching physicians new, patient-centered communication skills that invite and motivate patients into exam room conversations about their health.   The benefits to physicians of becoming more patient-centered in how they talk to patients extends well beyond engaging patients.  Patient-centered communication skills, considered the benchmark for  effective patient communications, are also linked in the evidence to:

  • Better patient health outcomes
  • Improved safety and quality
  • Reduced ER and hospital use
  • Increased patient adherence
  • Stronger physician-patient relationships
  • Exceptional patient experiences
  • Increased visit productivity

Check out Mind The Gap Communication Solution for more information on improving the patient-centered communication skills of physicians in your provider network