Miles to Go Before I Sleep: Reimagining Patient Engagement

snow covered weed at dusk

Dave Bennett, CISM, CEO

Almost eight months ago to the day, I published Social Distancing and the Power of Patient Engagement on this blog.  I have mixed feelings as I look back at that article and prepare for the “long dark winter” that will proceed  the “vaccinations of spring” and the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

I am heartened by the overwhelming and lasting appreciation people across the board have for frontline healthcare workers.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that #HealthcareHeroes is one of the leading Twitter tags of 2020.  I wrote in April, “… I hope we all emerge from the pandemic with an enduring appreciation for the professionalism, bravery, and deep commitment to patient care that’s on full display from America’s health care workforce.”  While we are not out of the woods yet, I feel very confident in my belief that this has in fact come to pass.

I also posed a series of questions including:

  • Are we expanding our thinking about patient engagement?
  • Are we equipping patients with information to impact their own outcomes?

Unfortunately, I think we may be coming up a bit short.  We have made strides. Telehealth has exploded; creating convenience and safety for patients and providers alike.  Leveraging simple technology like texting in a variety of applications such as appointment scheduling and medication reminders has proven both effective for care and experience. Yet, we have to work harder and get more creative.

I would wager that most readers have been barraged with the statistic that the US makes up 4% of the world’s population but accounts for 19% of the world’s COVID fatalities. The fact remains that 10 months into this pandemic and there have been serious lapses in the way we social distance and millions of people have shown resistance to the wearing masks. This is not about shaming or throwing stones or politics. But it is about acknowledging what is happening around us and exploring new ways to prompt positive behavior change.

We’ll never reach everybody, but I believe we can do a better job of more holistically meeting people where they are. It cannot be a pipe dream to weave the threads of public health and personal liberty together.   On the one hand is hyper personalization. A good thing. With access to more data we can laser focus on the person in terms of:

  • Health Status
  • Social Determinants
  • Personal Preferences

But, we need to balance this with responsibilities for public health that are largely missing from the equation.  For example, while I cannot prove this, I believe that if the message for vaccinations more fully stressed the public health benefit in addition to the fact of personal disease avoidance, then the anti-vaxxer movement would not have taken hold to the degree it has in the U.S. I do believe that the campaign on second-hand smoke DID have a positive impact in driving down smoking rates in the United States.   A public health message can make a difference.

2021 is sure to be a better year. To ensure a brighter future, it’s important we acknowledge and fill gaps.   As a veteran, I have a deep appreciation for service and the value it provides to both society and the serviceman. In an effort to create more impactful patient engagement solutions that drive collaborative care, I know we can do a better job fostering the value individual health self-management provides for society as whole. That is a challenge I am confident we can meet.

As I think about where we are, where we are headed, and what it will take to get there, I am reminded of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening which ends:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Happy Holidays All.

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