Is Patient Engagement an Unnatural Act?

Nearly five years ago, a healthcare tech pundit called patient engagement “the blockbuster drug of the 21st century.” [] The enthusiasm and excitement are understandable: patients who are more actively engaged in their care appear to have better outcomes and improved healthcare experiences. []

But if patient engagement is such a good thing, why haven’t we seen the “blockbuster” outcomes that should come along with it? The answer is that in many ways, patient engagement is akin to levitating: it sounds good, but it’s awfully hard to do. That’s because when we try to increase patient engagement, we’re fighting millions of years of evolution.

Of the 10 million bits of information the human brain processes each second, a skimpy fifty bits are under our control. This means that we point our scant fifty bits at issues that are either pressing or pleasurable.

In other words, almost everything our brains do is automatic, happening below the radar and beyond our grasp. This leads to lots of inattention and inertia, often keeping us from engaging in better behaviors and decisions.

Fortunately, there are a number of proven strategies for activating patients’ pre-existing good intentions. We can use these strategies to craft interactions designed to address this “fifty bits” limitation.

None of this means that patient engagement is hopeless, or that it’s a bad thing. But it does mean that we should all appreciate the serious challenge that we’re taking when we call for greater patient engagement. And it absolutely suggests that we should thoroughly investigate other strategies for activating the good intentions that most people already have – whether that requires engagement or not.

Join me at the 3rd Annual Eliza Client Summit – Outcomes2017 where I will deliver the day one keynote and share proven strategies that can lead to better health outcomes. 

Dr. Bob Nease is an Eliza Engage blog guest writer, keynote speaker at Outcomes2017, chief scientist emeritus at ESI and author of The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results


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