Top patient engagement tips for new DPC practices

Direct primary care (DPC) providers have an opportunity to engage with patients in a meaningful way and in a way that is often not an option for providers in traditional model practices. Most DPC providers emphasize the importance of communication with their patients and encourage them to contact the provider directly virtually anytime day or night. Here are some of the top engagement tips for new DPC practices that can make a difference in patient outcomes and in the practice’s success.

What does it mean to engage patients? Patient engagement involves not only the individual being seen by the DPC practice but also the patient’s family and caregivers. The goal is to improve their care and to improve their healthcare safety. Patients involved in a number of research studies have shown that they want to be engaged by their healthcare provider. Being proactive with patient engagement can also help DPC providers who are concerned with health equity issues among their patient panel, recognizing their patients as valuable partners in everyone’s health and well-being.

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Engaging patients on their own terms involves a number of steps, including helping patients define their own life goals and then offering personalized guidance that empowers patients to become more involved in the healing and wellness process. Rather than clinical goals, the patient may relate more to personal goals, such as being able to play with a child or participate in other physical activities. Engaging means helping the patient set personal milestones and then measure progress toward reaching their own goals.

When strategies and goals have a more personal meaning to the patient, studies have found that the patient is more likely to follow their healthcare plan. It’s also important to recognize that there may be some plateauing or even regressing in their plan, but the DPC provider can then provide the nudges that will help the patient once again move forward in their progress. The key is to incorporate patient-created solutions and health management skills.

Communicating with patients in an open, honest, and convenient manner will enable patients to feel respected and empowered as they become more engaged with their DPC provider. Patients who are part of the decision process, who feel as though they can share actual experiences rather than simply what the provider wants to hear, are typically more likely to follow the provider’s advice and guidance.

Specific patient engagement tips for new DPC practices to help the patient feel as though they are an integral part of the process include:

  • Asking open-ended questions. Rather than questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” ask questions that encourage patients to express their thoughts and share their goals, giving the DPC provider more insight into the patient’s perspective.
  • Listening. Many healthcare providers see communication as a tool to inform patients. However, communication must work in both directions for the patient-provider relationship to thrive. Listening to the patient’s experiences and concerns can help the DPC provider collaborate with the patient to make better decisions.
  • Asking about barriers. Is there anything in the patient’s life that may keep them from understanding or following through on treatment recommendations? When the new DPC provider makes an effort to learn more about the patient’s circumstances, needs, and concerns, the more the patient will be engaged with the healthcare plan. Part of that plan should include ways to overcome barriers for better outcomes.
  • Asking the patient for ideas. Rather than telling patients what they should do, ask for their input. Offer options that might work for their particular situation and then discuss a plan that would fit best with the patient’s life circumstances and health goals. Ensure the patient feels confident in their ability to follow through on the healthcare plan, so that they are more engaged in it.

Patient engagement is primarily a matter of ensuring that patients feel heard and respected in regard to their feelings and experiences. They are then empowered to become involved in their own healthcare, resulting in improved outcomes for the patient and the DPC provider.