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Keeping Patients Engaged is Key to Better Healthcare

  • Published
  • By J.D. Levite
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Patient centeredness means making sure the patients’ needs and values direct the care they receive. Each patient is different, with individual preferences, and fulfilling that concept of putting the patient first means paying attention to those differences every time.

“What matters is what the patient wants. We have to get away from thinking we dictate the care,” said Col. Leslie Knight, commander of the 779th Medical Group at Joint Base Andrews, Md. “We are partners with the patients in their own care. The more involved they are, the more they care about their own healthcare, and the more we can meet them where they are, the better off they’ll be.”

The first step to getting doctors and patients on the same page is increasing the patients’ understanding of why the doctor is making one recommendation versus another.

“They might not know unless we’ve taught them and helped them to understand why it’s important,” Knight said. “The more they understand, the more they are willing to do what we ask them to do or to have a conversation about why they are unable to do it."

In order to get patients the help they need, clinics and hospitals need a staff that’s willing to do so. With everything doctors, nurses and technicians have to deal with every day, asking them to get to know patients individually can be a tough task.

“Everybody's working hard. I don't know of a single area in the Air Force that feels like they have enough people to do the job. So we try to take time to find that balance,” Knight said. “I think for staff members who are willing to engage their patients it's not difficult at all. Healthcare is very personal. Patients come to us and they tell us stuff they've never told anyone in the whole wide world, and they trust us with that information. They are coming to us engaged.”

Knight has found other ways to engage with patients, too. In previous commands she has started programs to put patients on committees around her facilities to get their direct feedback on what’s happening and even become more involved on social media.

“I knew we had turned a corner when people would start tagging us on Facebook,” she said. “It was amazing. Our community was totally engaged and interested in what we were doing and we were having a two way conversation. It wasn't just us putting out messages trying to teach them about healthcare or about the clinic. They were actually interacting with us.”

This sort of engagement has led to Knight personally helping patients get problems resolved and improve the care provided by the clinic she commands. The principals of patient centeredness and keeping patients engaged in their own healthcare have been around for a long time, and Knight said it’s what makes military medicine special.

“In the military, we have had a special relationship with our patients from the beginning. Our retirees are desperate to come back to us because they know we understand them,” she said. “Trusted Care has always been here, we just haven't always called it that. To make it not go away, we just have to keep doing it.”

USAF. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Rosario "Charo" Gutierrez)