The key to improving outcomes and reducing health care costs may be in patients’ hands. Evidence is growing that patients who are more actively involved in their health care have better health outcomes and incur lower costs. As a result, many health care providers are using strategies to engage patients more, such as educating them about their conditions and involving them more fully in making decisions about their care.

“Patient engagement,” as this approach is called, means motivating patients to manage their own health, whether by keeping track of their own medical data, seeking preventive care, taking their medications and exercising regularly, or staying on top of chronic conditions like diabetes that need regular medical attention.

Engaging patients in their own health care is good news for both patients and providers, as explained in a recent Wall Street Journal article about the trend. Not only are there fewer doctors and more patients — thanks to new health care laws — but the cost of care continues to rise, along with rates of chronic diseases. However, the vast majority of Americans “remain relatively uninformed and passive recipients of health care services and thus lack the confidence and skills needed to fully engage in their health care,” says the nonprofit National Patient Safety Foundation.

As a doctor, what can you do to improve patient engagement in your practice? Here are three places to start.

1. Improve your technology.

The answer to many patient-engagement challenges is improving the technology that gives patients access to information and enhances communication with doctors. A new report by health care advertising agency CDMiConnect surveyed 3,000 patients aged 18 and over with more than 200 health conditions and found some surprising results: one in five people spent the average 20-minute wait time in their doctors’ waiting room searching for health information on their smartphones. The majority of these patients were looking to educate themselves on their symptoms and prepare for their appointment.

Given that 72 percent of patients search for health information online – some right in your waiting room – it makes sense that doctors should be a reputable source for their patients. Providing high-quality patient education materials like medical animations and procedure videos in your waiting room and on your website is a good place to start.

For more ideas, see 3 Simple Steps to Build Your Tech-Savvy Practice

2. Boost patients’ confidence.

The same report also examined the reasons why patients were searching the web in their doctor’s waiting room. Most people “want to know ‘what do these symptoms mean’ and are searching for that confidence so they can engage their doctor about it,” said researchers. “The common theme was patients feeling prepared and confident to have that discussion with their doctor.” After waiting-room learning, 78 percent of patients reported feeling more confident, and 82 percent felt more prepared to talk to their doctor, according to the CDMiConnect report.

Many patients struggle to find, process, and understand even basic health information and services, however. Studies have shown that nearly half the adult U.S. population have low levels of health literacy. And even when patients do receive detailed information, “they can be overwhelmed or lack confidence in their own choices,” according to policy journal Health Affairs. By providing their patients with clear, easy-to-understand information about their health – and taking the time to walk them through it and answer questions — doctors are taking an important step towards improving patient engagement.

3. Encourage shared decision-making.

Patients want to be involved in making decisions about their treatment, and it’s in doctors’ best interests to encourage them. When patients and providers together consider the patient’s condition, treatment options, benefits, and risks, patients have overall medical costs that are 5.3 percent lower than for those receiving only the usual support.

A report from the Institute of Medicine states that key elements in successfully partnering with patients include: listening fully to patients, establishing trust, and using limited resources wisely. “Decision aids” such as pamphlets, books, videos, web sites, and other interactive media can be a useful part of the process of educating patients and helping them make the best choices for their own care.

It’s also important to realize that most of your patients rely on their personal networks when it comes to their health. Some 60 percent of patients get health information and support from their friends and family. Ensure that your educational content can be easily accessed and shared with patients’ networks and caregivers after their appointment – and make sure that it’s branded with your practice information, since 85 percent of survey respondents said that word-of-mouth referrals from family and friends were “very important” or “somewhat important” in selecting a doctor.

To find out more about how to improve patient engagement in your practice, or for a trial of Rendia, our cloud-based patient education software, contact us today.