What We’re Learning: Engaging Patients Improves Health and Health Care

People who are actively engaged in their health care are more likely to stay healthy and manage their conditions by asking their doctors questions about their care, following treatment plans, eating right, exercising, and receiving health screenings and immunizations. Patients without the skills to manage their health care incur costs up to 21 percent higher than patients who are highly engaged in their care.

Patient engagement starts with giving patients the tools they need to understand what makes them sick, how to stay healthy, and what to do if their conditions get worse. It means motivating and empowering patients to work with clinicians—to be active participants in their care by asking questions, knowing their medications and medical history, bringing friends or relatives to appointments for support, and learning about care that may be unnecessary. It can also mean giving them a seat at the table to improve the care that hospitals and doctors’ offices provide. Patients who know how to navigate the health care system often have different perspectives than those who provide their care, and can offer insights on how to overcome the barriers that patients face to help improve care.

Not all patients are the same, so there are many different ways to engage them, depending on a patient’s skills and interests. The American Institutes for Research developed a three-level framework to guide patient engagement by matching patients with activities that align with their interest in and knowledge of health and the health care system. First-level patients are becoming engaged in managing their own care. Second-level patients provide input to health care organizations, including doctors’ offices, to help improve care for all patients. Third-level patients are involved in efforts to influence community-wide programs, policies, laws, and regulations in health care. Aligning Forces Humboldt, which leads the Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) effort in Humboldt County, Calif., also developed a framework to guide patient engagement in its projects, based on patients’ skills and interests. Across the country, organizations leading the AF4Q initiative are engaging patients at all levels to improve care in their communities. 


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