Go to app
GuidesPatient experienceThe ultimate guide to patient engagement

The ultimate guide to patient engagement

Last updated

8 August 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Working in a large organization with over 100+ employees? Discover how Dovetail can scale your ability to keep the customer at the center of every decision. Contact sales.

Doctors are keen for patients to take a more active role in their healthcare, including quitting smoking, developing better eating habits, and exercising more. A key way to get patients to do this is to make them more engaged in their healthcare journey.

In addition to enjoying a more healthy lifestyle, a proactive patient will visit their doctor with concerns sooner rather than later, preventing health issues from getting worse. By improving patient engagement, doctors can make a profound impact on the lives of their patients and their health outcomes.

In this post, we'll talk about why patient engagement is important, some factors that influence it, and ways it can be improved.

The benefits of patient engagement

Increased patient engagement brings several major benefits:

Improved patient outcomes

Increased patient engagement improves patient outcomes in several ways. Patients who are highly engaged with their medical team will report problems faster so they're caught at a more treatable stage.

Medical staff will also have a more complete picture of the patient's health, allowing them to make more informed decisions about diagnosis and treatment options.

Increased adherence to treatment plans

Engaged patients are more likely to complete their treatment plans. This not only improves outcomes for them but, in the case of contagious diseases or antibiotic treatment, it can also help to keep others around them safe or prevent antibiotic resistance.

Enhanced patient satisfaction

A big part of how satisfied a patient is with their healthcare is how well they feel their needs are being met. When a patient is engaged, they are proactive about telling medical staff what those needs are. As a result, those needs are met more quickly and completely than they otherwise could be.

A dissatisfied but engaged patient is also more likely to report their issues or concerns so they can be remedied.

Better use of healthcare resources

An engaged patient is a proactive patient. Potential problems are caught earlier, so addressing them requires fewer resources than if they were allowed to grow worse.

Those patients are also more thorough and upfront with their doctors, which helps their medical team to more quickly diagnose and solve problems, thereby using fewer unnecessary tests or procedures.

Cost savings for healthcare systems

Nearly every benefit we've discussed so far means significantly lower costs for healthcare systems. Every step that's taken to make a patient's healthcare more timely and efficient also saves the medical provider time and money.

In addition to the financial benefit to the provider, this frees up resources to help more people.

Get a demo from a Dovetail expert

Our team can give you a demo, help you choose the right plan and ensure you get the most out of Dovetail.

Request a demo

Factors influencing patient engagement

To understand how to improve patient engagement, let’s first look at the factors that influence it. There are many reasons why a patient may not feel comfortable or empowered enough to take control of their health.

Some of the major factors include:

Healthcare provider-patient relationship

When a doctor is open, friendly, and empathetic to the needs of their patients (often referred to as a “good bedside manner”), the patients feel comfortable coming to them with new problems and opening up about existing ones.

The opposite is also true. A cold or dismissive doctor will send a patient into their shell so that they only seek help when necessary.

Health literacy and education

One of the most important things a healthcare professional can do is educate patients. Some illnesses have entire months dedicated to raising awareness about them. Most people know they need to get breast or prostate exams after a certain age, for example. But there are plenty of risk factors unique to a given patient's medical history.

The more a patient knows about the risks they face, the more likely they are to be on the lookout for them.

Cultural and societal factors

Ingrained biases often play a role in the level of patient engagement. For example, some cultures are more mistrustful of the medical industry than others. This may be because of poor quality traditional or alternative medicine in their culture, or because of historical injustices at the hands of the medical community.

For some patients, these issues are compounded by a language barrier that makes it difficult for them to fully express their needs. If a person communicates poorly in the language used by medical staff, they’ll often shy away entirely from communication.

Technological advancements in healthcare

One aspect of healthcare that has dramatically improved engagement is the advancement of technology. For most practices, patients can log on to a portal and get up-to-date information about their health without having to wait in a telephone queue. They can proactively schedule appointments and read information relevant to their condition.

A wide range of health and wellness apps are also available on mobile devices that open up a whole new world of patient engagement.

Strategies for promoting patient engagement

Once the factors that contribute to patient engagement are understood, a plan can be put in place to improve it.

Let’s look at some of the key elements that can improve patient engagement.

Shared decision-making

To be engaged, patients must be involved in the decision-making process. Their values, preferences, and circumstances need to play a role in the decisions that impact their healthcare. By engaging patients in discussions around these topics, health providers encourage the patient to engage. It also creates a more personalized and holistic approach to healthcare.

Rather than Yes or No questions, medical staff should ask open-ended ones. Questions such as "Can you tell me more about your symptoms?" or "What concerns do you have about your treatment plan?" encourage dialogue and increase engagement.

Informed consent is a big deal in medicine, and it's equally important in getting patients engaged. The more a patient knows about their condition, the risks involved, and the available treatment options, the more information they have to make an informed decision. Medical providers should carefully explain each of the available treatment options and ask the patient which course they think is best to take. As they explain the options, it also presents the patient with more opportunities to ask questions.

The medical provider must work to maintain that engagement. This means listening to the patient's perspective and trying to find a solution that both solves their medical problem and aligns with their goals and values. When this happens, patients become more invested in their care and more engaged in the process.

Effective communication

Patients can't make informed decisions without effective communication about the conditions that impact them, as well as those they are at risk from. It’s not enough for healthcare providers to explain the situation to patients; they need to be understood.

Getting to know the patient and the kind of explanation they respond to will help. Are they informed enough that a brief overview of the situation gets them up to speed, or do they need a more in-depth explanation of the basics first?

When medical staff take the time to ask patients if they need clarification on anything, it allows them to evaluate a patient's health knowledge and adapt their strategy accordingly. Whenever possible, medical jargon should be avoided or simplified to make the concepts easier to understand.

Open and effective communication is a powerful tool for driving patient engagement because it fosters a sense of collaboration. The patient no longer feels like a passive recipient of healthcare, but rather a vital part of the process itself. Put another way, they are given an active role to play in their own healthcare journey.

Many patients are more than willing to take an active role when it's presented to them, even if they would have otherwise remained passive.

Using technology for engagement

In the previous section, we saw how technology can be used to improve patient engagement. There are three main areas in which medical practitioners can embrace modern technology to improve patient outcomes and increase their engagement:

  • Patient portals and personal health records: When a patient had a question in the past, they had to phone the doctor’s office, wait on hold, and possibly get transferred several times before getting an answer. This caused a lot of friction that could keep many patients from seeking answers in the first place. Patient portals allow them to get that information instantly by simply logging on.

  • Mobile health applications: There are many apps available that track all sorts of health metrics. Blood pressure machines, scales, and other measurement devices can now sync automatically to mobile applications that record detailed information about the user's health. Like patient portals, these tools remove some of the barriers to patient engagement.

  • Telemedicine: Many health conditions don't require an in-person visit. For those conditions, the doctor can speak to the patient over the phone or video call. This removes the need to drive to a doctor’s office, wait in the lobby, and experience any associated frustrations. Once again, less friction makes a patient more likely to take advantage of medical help.

Although there is a lot of technology that can improve patient engagement, not every patient is tech-savvy enough to use them. Medical professionals should not only make patients aware of the available tools but also help them to understand how to use the technology.

Patient education programs

For immediate concerns, it's often best for a doctor to sit down with the patient and explain the problems they’re facing so options can be discussed and a treatment plan developed. For risk factors or long-term illnesses, a broader scope can be employed. Patient education programs are structured systems that give patients the knowledge they need about a given health topic.

Patient education programs come in many forms. Most take a comprehensive approach that uses several different methods. These may include one-on-one discussions, group workshops, written materials, audiovisual aids, interactive online platforms, or hands-on demonstrations. Whatever the method, these programs are designed to provide patients with the information they need to manage their condition.

Although healthcare providers should make this material easily accessible to everyone, doctors should point each patient in the direction of the resources relevant to their particular situation.

Supportive healthcare environment

Patients are often not engaged because they don't feel empowered to be. For example, when someone has to spend a long time in a waiting room before seeing a doctor, it's easy for them to feel like just a number. Setting a priority of minimizing wait times can get patients seen quicker and reduce that feeling.

Once the patient spends time with their doctor, they should feel supported. To open up and be engaged, people need to feel their concerns are being addressed and their values respected. A supportive environment empowers patients to voice their concerns and allows them to have enough time to understand their goals and values.

In summary

These are a few examples of what it means for a healthcare environment to be supportive, increasing patient engagement. Every patient interaction with a provider should be designed through a patient-centric lens.

Their health is on the line. Everything that can be done to create an environment where they feel cared for and valued will increase their likelihood of seeking help and following through with their treatment plans.

Should you be using a customer insights hub?

Do you want to discover previous research faster?

Do you share your research findings with others?

Do you analyze patient research?

Start for free today, add your research, and get to key insights faster

Get Dovetail free

Editor’s picks

What is healthcare marketing?

Last updated: 29 June 2023

What is health equity?

Last updated: 27 June 2023

What is continuous quality improvement?

Last updated: 14 July 2023

Quality management in healthcare

Last updated: 18 July 2023

Related topics

User experience (UX)Product developmentMarket researchPatient experienceCustomer researchSurveysResearch methodsEmployee experience

Decide what to build next

Decide what to build next

Get Dovetail free


OverviewChannelsMagicIntegrationsEnterpriseInsightsAnalysisPricingLog in


About us
© Dovetail Research Pty. Ltd.
TermsPrivacy Policy

Log in or sign up

Get started for free


By clicking “Continue with Google / Email” you agree to our User Terms of Service and Privacy Policy