Engaging Patients as Team Members

As future health professionals, we can play a role in increasing our patients’ engagement as members of their care team. 


Two cartoon Black masculine-presenting characters smiling and talking to each other with a desk between them. The person behind the desk appears to be a healthcare provider, and the person in front of the desk appears to be a patient.
Image source: Storyblocks

Within healthcare, the concept of “patient-centered care” has grown more and more in popularity. But, what exactly is patient-centered care? Under the patient-centered care framework, healthcare providers recognize that no two patients are alike; every individual’s needs and goals are unique to them, and therefore their care must be tailored uniquely to them as well. Perhaps more importantly, patient-centered care emphasizes the importance of the patient being a fully informed decision-maker in their plan of care. Patients are able to take a more active role in their treatment and become a member of their own healthcare team, rather than passively accepting treatment.

What are the benefits of patient-centered care? 

The sense of autonomy is a huge factor for many patients in determining a route for their healthcare needs. When a patient feels like they have a say or are making choices regarding their care, they are more likely to adhere to the programs. Patient-centered care and allowing the patient to be involved in conversations about their health are key factors in the quality of service we provide and improve patient outcomes. The healthcare team needs to include the patient in the decision-making process because the patient is the most important member of the team! Patient-centered care emphasizes this in order to best treat the patient’s needs and ensure they feel heard and seen during their treatments. This then makes patients more engaged in the process and will encourage patient buy-in to be an active member of their care. 

What are the barriers to patient-centered care?

Engaging patients in the decision-making process and making sure that they understand all of the treatment options available to them is a crucial part of their care. However, social determinants of health can lead to some challenges that can impact the effectiveness of patient engagement. Cultural differences can exacerbate patients’ mistrust and misunderstanding of the healthcare systems and teams. Language barriers can widen communication gaps between physicians and patients. Financial circumstances may limit the patients’ treatment options. Patients with different educational backgrounds may have difficulty understanding their conditions and the interventions being offered to them. Thus, providers must consider the patients’ social determinants of health when discussing their health and bring in additional resources to better facilitate patient engagement.

What tools do we have to implement patient-centered care?

In addition to process changes made within the clinical setting, technology can also be leveraged to empower patients to engage in their own plan of care. The use of patient portals provides multiple ways for patients to take an active role in their care, even when they aren’t in a traditional clinic or hospital setting. Such portals allow patients to readily access and verify their health data, select providers, schedule appointments, and oftentimes communicate directly with their care team. The digitization of records also makes them more easily accessible to multiple providers, which can help promote continuity and coordination of care. However, it should be noted that these patient-facing technologies should help enhance patient-centered care practices, not replace them completely.

As future health professionals, we can play a role in increasing our patients’ engagement as members of their care team. It not only benefits our patients, but helps us grow as professionals. How do you envision yourself engaging patients as team members in your future role?


Folwell Paragraphs