What Does It Mean to Say a Patient Is Engaged?

What does it mean to say (1)In the past few years, “patient engagement” has become a key focus for health care providers and coaches. I think its visibility has increased as changes in health care laws in the United States force a realization that people must take control of their own care to some extent in order to reduce burden on the system.

Like many terms that are used a lot, “patient engagement” means different things to different people. A recent literature review outlines the many ways the term has been used and breaks down the meaning by academic field. Some highlights include:

  • Nurses see patient engagement as self-awareness
  • Public health researchers think patient engagement is like empowerment
  • Mental health care providers believe patient engagement is a strong alliance with the clinician

All of these definitions have certain elements in common, but the differences do hamper our ability to systematically research and understand what factors help engage patients, and what the outcome of good engagement can be.

So what do I think patient engagement is? The definition my colleagues and I use includes the following elements. An engaged patient:

  • Has a sense of ownership for his or her own health
  • Collaborates with providers and other caregivers
  • Builds a community of support that includes health care professionals as well as friends and family members

I also think an engaged patient has a sense of his or her personal motivation to work on health, and quite possibly has shared this with providers.

What does patient engagement mean to you?