Patient Engagement, Partnerships and Puppies

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If you attended the Studer Group Conference in Nashville this past Fall, you may recall that Craig Deao made note of puppies, big data, and patient engagement in his keynote address. This mention was based on the post below (written a few years back when I was the CFO and VP of Strategy for NICHQ (the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality) and leader of its impactful Parent Partnership QI program)) and the accompanying Speak Up and Stay Alive radio interview found HERE.

And with all the renewed focus on patient engagement and big data … I am resharing this post today (originally published by NICHQ).


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I was recently [2014] invited to chair the World Congress Patient Engagement Summit in Boston.

The event promised to “leave behind theory and bring about actionable change with actionable solutions to engage patients and move the needle on clinical outcomes and community health.” And, it lived up to this billing.

In addition to chairing the event, I also moderated the “Leverage Prevention Programs to Boost Wellness and the Bottom Line” panel discussion where Neal S. Sofian, MSPH, director of member engagement of Premera Blue Cross and Blue Shield, shared a powerful story that continues to resonate with me.

I believe this story will lend itself to true innovation in patient engagement and partnership and, ultimately, better health and healthcare outcomes.

Sofian’s presentation was engaging and colorful and his message was clear:

“We must think differently to truly engage and partner with patients.”

Think about current data collection and use innovations in healthcare provision. Currently, through claims and electronic health record data, we can learn that Mrs. Smith is a 55-year-old woman. She is moderately overweight, has diagnoses of pre-diabetes and mild depression and has not seen her primary care physician in 15 months.

How do we innovate and use this information? Via telemedicine. By turning data into action:

Mrs. Smith, this is Jennifer Morelle, Dr. Chapelle’s nurse. We’ve noticed that you have not been in to see Dr. Chapelle in quite some time, and Dr. Chapelle would very much like you to come in and have your glucose level checked. I would like to schedule a time to do so with you. When would be the best time for you to come in?

This is great. Physician practice captures data, mines data, leverages data and then reaches out to engage the patient in an effort to improve her health and healthcare.

And yet …

I believe we can do better.

For example: As a quality improvement organization, NICHQ constantly seeks opportunities to improve health and healthcare. In addition to using QI methods to achieve this aim, innovation is increasingly a trademark of NICHQ’s work. (See NICHQ’s COIIN (Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network to Reduce Infant Mortality initiative) as a major example of leveraging innovation to improve outcomes).

And so it was wonderful when Sofian continued:

“Now let’s picture capturing, mining and leveraging additional data points.”

As Sofian continued the story, we learned that:

Mrs. Smith lost her beloved golden retriever, Trixie, 10 months ago and she is still heartbroken. And now we can add this volunteered data point to the data mix and start to innovate.

Sofian then imagined this more innovative approach to telemedicine:

Mrs. Smith, this is Jennifer Morelle, Dr. Chapelle’s nurse. We here at Internal Medicine Associates have partnered with the local ASPCA on a new initiative to have 25 rescue puppies adopted in the next 30 days. Would you be interested in adopting one of the puppies? You would? Wonderful! We will provide you with coupons to the local pet store for three months of pet supplies and food, and we will fund four training sessions for your new puppy. Congratulations!

You might be asking, how does adopting puppies innovate patient engagement and partnership?

Well, studies have shown that pets can have a positive impact on people with mild to moderate depression.

Research has also shown that owning a dog can:

  • lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones and boost levels of endorphins in the brain
  • lead to more exercise, better sleep and better fitness levels

And finally, the costs associated with managing the adverse impact of Mrs. Smith’s weight, mild depression and pre-diabetes, dwarf the relatively minor costs associated with helping her to adopt a puppy.

So, is adopting rescue puppies the answer to patient engagement and partnership and improving health and healthcare for everyone? No. (And yet beneficial to society in a great many ways.)

But when we develop care models that allow for providers to truly engage and partner with patients at each and every healthcare encounter within a framework of relationship and trust, patients are positioned to share their whole story, and the providers are positioned to listen to understand and engage with more pertinent information. This leads to shared decision making, better engagement, compliance and outcomes, and fewer preventable errors.

All of us who work in the healthcare sector must reach beyond the familiar to develop new partnerships that expand our thinking and position us to innovate for the betterment of our patients.


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