Why do I need to engage with my patients?

Short answer: because you should!

We recognise the importance of communicating effectively with patients when they are in front of us in GP practices or dental surgeries for their appointments, so why then do we not recognise the need to proactively engage with them beyond this appointment?

Patients more than ever before want to be engaged with on an individual basis. They want to be informed, involved and helped to drive improvements in their own health and wellbeing, and that of their families. So why wouldn’t we strive to help them? Why wouldn’t we in turn help ourselves by creating a healthier, more informed group of patients, who are more inclined to take control of their own health? 

In the information hungry and technology savvy society that we live in today, patients and carers are accessible to being engaged with more than ever before. Tablets and smart phones have opened up the opportunities for engagement with patients 24 hours a day seven days a week. And with technologies allowing timed messaging to take place, the window of opportunity for engagement is always open and no longer conforms to traditional office or surgery/practice hours.

You might be forgiven for thinking that your younger or older patients will not be accessible via these new technologies, or might not be interested in being engaged with in this way - don’t be. Age and social demographic no longer play a determining factor in whether people are using new technologies, or whether they would be interested in being engaged with in this way. Ever heard the term ‘Silver Surfers’ – well these are your older patients who are increasingly linking themselves with smart phones, tablets and the social media world around them. In fact if anything, new technology and social media are the vehicles through which the younger generation in particular want to be engaged – engagement that healthcare organisations have struggled to achieve for decades!

Never before have the opportunities for proactively reaching out to your patient list been so great: from practice or surgery e.newsletters and blogs, to online discussion forums, webinars and podcasts, it’s all there for the taking. Whether it’s updating patients on the results of your Friends and Family test/practice patient survey, and highlighting how their comments and suggestions have helped to shape practice services, to highlighting trends and new medical approaches, healthy recipes, fun exercise techniques and quick hints and tips; enabling people to stay healthy and more able to proactively better self-manage their long-term conditions. 

By creating a practice/surgery online community with two-way dialogue either in real time or not, you are enabling people to feel like they belong, that they are valued and as such more empowered to become more interested in self-care, healthy eating and lifestyles and, less likely to DNA. All of which can only be a good thing surely?

“Is it cool for a GP practice or dental surgery to have a social media account”? I hear you ask - to engage with patients in an interesting, friendly and ‘human’ way - to encourage changes in behaviour through non traditional methods? The answer is of course yes. Social media has opened up a new world of opportunity for encouraging positive two-way engagement, education and behaviour change through interest groups.

But don’t forget, engagement should not just focus or rely on digital platforms. To ensure that you do not come across as a faceless organisation, you need to make sure that engagement opportunities based on personal contact also feature in your engagement plans. Yes your time is precious and should be focussed primarily on the traditional day job. But with the development of ambassador groups such as Patient Participation Groups, never before have open days and coffee mornings been less of a pressure on your tight resources. These types of activities not only provide great opportunities for idea generation and discussion, but also create a community spirit and portray your organisation as an important hub in the local area. 

So come on what is there to lose? Surely it’s all there to gain? Today is as good a day as any to start developing your engagement plan, and it’s not as daunting as you might be thinking, so go on give it a go. 

Feel free to call me and ask me any questions about anything that I’ve suggested. Always happy to chat and offer advice and support.

Good Luck!