September 28, 2011 – Only 48% of Canadians with a regular doctor feel engaged in their health care, according to a report released by the Health Council of Canada (HCC). Women and older Canadians tend to be more engaged in their health care than are other Canadians. Engaged patients are more involved in decision making, feel that they have enough time with their primary care provider, and freely share their preferences and priorities.
The importance of patient engagement
Patients who can discuss issues with their care provider, generate options for treatment and management, and share in decision-making are happier with their care and feel better about their health. According to the report, both the patient and care provider benefit from this type of engagement, as the patient receives, and the physician delivers, better care.
Patient engagement also involves family and friends, according to the definition of engagement in the report. Family and friends act as supports to patients and play a crucial role in proper health care provision, a point CARP has made often in advocating for formal integration of family caregivers into the healthcare system.
The HCC report finds that “patients who are involved and who feel respected in their interactions with health care providers do better and feel better, compared to those who are less engaged. They take a more confident and active role in maintaining their health, are more satisfied with their care, and feel more positively about their overall health. For physicians, shared decision making is increasingly recognized as an ideal model of care.”
Barriers to patient engagement
The report cites a number of factors that contribute to lower engagement, including a lack of service coordination, limited information on available services, and minimal access to one’s health records. Most importantly, disengaged patients often face inadequate time with a primary care physician, all of which lands Canada in middle of international rankings of engagement.
According to the 2010 Commonwealth Survey used by the HCC, at 48%, Canada trails well behind New Zealand (68%), Australia (63%), and Switzerland (59%), each of which report equally high levels of patient satisfaction with access, affordability, timeliness, and coordination of care. Canada, however, ranks ahead of Germany (44%), the UK (42%), and Norway (34%).
The HCC report argues that 100% patient engagement should be the goal in Canada. And, while we’re less than half way to the ideal, there are actions patients and system administrators can do to improve engagement.
Wait times, for one, are a leading factor limiting patient engagement. The longer patients wait for procedures, the less they feel like active participants in their own healthcare. Doctors can do more to follow up with patients after visits. The feeling of being actively cared for goes a long way towards an inclusive health system.
For their part, patients must exhibit greater control over their side of the patient-provider relationship. This means taking on the responsibility of asking questions and seeking more information when they need it. The system must do more to include patients in the provision of their own care, but engagement is a two-way relationship between the patient and the provider.
To read the full report, click here