Watch Your Mouth! 5 Tips for Better Patient Engagement

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Watch Your Mouth!

5 Tips for Better Patient Engagement

“Watch Your Mouth!” Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of this statement in your teen years; or you yourself have said this to your own children.  Truth of the matter is – words can help or harm.  Biblically stated, “Both life and death are in the power of the tongue”.

Patient Engagement is when the patient takes an active role in managing their own health, per the recommendations of their health provider.  For the health organization this translates to better health outcomes and greater financial success. While there are a myriad of technologies out there that promise to make this happen, the best and most cost-effective solution rests in the provider/patient dialogue – that is “the power of the tongue”.


5 ways to improve patient engagement, simply by “watching your mouth”.
  1. Choose your words wisely.  Never define a patient by their condition.  Instead, say a person is “living with diabetes” or “living with a disability’ as opposed to “diabetic” or “disabled”.  Speak with a tone of acceptance that promotes inclusion.
  2. Be engaged.  Ask open-ended questions so that the patient can speak at length.  Take an active interest in who they are personally.  Listen intently for behavioral clues: motivations, dreams and desires.  Leverage what you learn to elevate the patient’s self-image, and instill confidence in their ability to manage their own health.
  3. Begin with the end in mind.  This is Steven Covey’s Habit #2 of “Highly Effective People”.  As early in the relationship as possible, set a goal, and chart the course. The course may change, but now at least an objective is established.  Positively acknowledge their movement towards that goal. If they fail, say something like “I see you’re really trying”, or “almost..” that sort of thing, and help them get back on track.
  4. Use FAQ’s to Spark a Conversation.  Do you get a blank stare or a mumbled “no” when you ask your patients – “do you have any questions”?  Let’s take a look at this from their perspective.  You’ve given an unsettled individual, a lot of complex, unfamiliar information in a short period of time.  Add to that the pressure they feel of your need to move on.  Solution? Cite “frequently asked questions” (FAQ’s) and their appropriate responses.  This helps set expectations and sparks the needed dialogue to confirm understanding.
  5. Give them what they need to succeed.   Patients need four things to successfully engage in their own care: knowledge, ability, skill, and willingness.  Take a moment to determine how much support and follow-up is needed.  Rally the help of family and caregivers. Finally, offer further intervention options where necessary.

Decide to choose your words carefully.  From the patient’s perspective, a quick answer is not always the best answer; and it does little to inspire self-management.  An encouraging word however is never out of season.  You’ll feel better and your patients will too.