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It is no surprise there is often confusion between the concepts of experience and engagement. Tack the word “patient” to the front of either, and you’ll likely become even more confused as to the difference in meaning between the two. The difference, however, becomes significant when we look at the current state of health care. The reality is, participants in the health care industry are dedicating significant resources to enhancing the patient experience.

Equally, investments in technology and labor are being made to improve engagement with patients, both prospective and current. This shift in patient engagement has stemmed from an increasing number of patients playing a more active role in managing their health affairs through digital platforms. While both patient experience and patient engagement contribute equally to patient loyalty, there are key differences worth noting.

Patient Experience

patient experience vs patient engagement

Patient experience can be summed up as the cumulative experiences a patient encounters throughout their dealings with a health care provider. This begins with the initial phone call and continues right through administering care to the patient and the routine after-care checkups. A patient’s experience is a journey that is often comprised of:

  1. The initial phone conversation or online booking made to schedule an appointment with the health care provider.
  2. The patient’s visit to the premises, including the interaction between the receptionist staff and the patient upon arrival and departure.
  3. The level of care provided by the health care provider to the patient, and the quality of the health care staff who administered the care.
  4. Whether the patient’s experience was comfortable, this includes the gown they were provided with and the appropriateness of the uniforms worn by the health care provider.
  5. The patient’s billing experience, such as the ease, convenience, and flexibility of payment.
  6. The after-stay experience with the health care provider—for example, did they make a follow-up call to the patient to gauge how they were feeling and whether the provider could have improved on any aspect of care?

In summary, every encounter the health care provider has with the patient contributes to the overall patient experience. Patient experience places the onus of care mostly on the health care provider, meaning the provider is responsible and accountable for the patient’s experience from start to finish. Understanding the touchpoints of this experience is critical to enhancing the overall relationship between the patient and the provider. 

Patient Engagement

The Center for Advancing Health defines patient engagement as the “… actions individuals must take to obtain the greatest benefit from the health care services available to them.” Patient engagement puts the onus of health care back on the patient. Patients are afforded an opportunity to enhance their health and well-being through various health care services on offer. However, the patient must act for engagement to take place. This shift in onus from provider to patient is the main differentiating factor between patient experience and patient engagement. Some examples of patient engagement are:

1. Patients and their families engaging in wellness programs, health-based courses, and initiatives provided by health care providers.

2. Patients registering for, updating, and regularly using online health care records. The introduction of online health care records offers significant convenience and control for patients who traditionally would not have documented their health history.

Such records enable patients to manage their health information, including advanced care plans or custodian details.

Online health records also allow patients to add personal notes regarding any allergies and allergic reactions they may have previously had and set up text or email notifications to notify the patient that a health care provider has viewed their record.

Patients concerned about security can configure their security settings to restrict access to their records and who can and can’t view their health records online.

3. Provide input into patient engagement surveys or broader initiatives. Surveys on patient engagement have been used previously to gauge the services that can be undertaken by a patient as opposed to health care providers. This, in turn, allows the health care provider to devote resources to segments of the patient experience cycle that require more attention.

Achieving Both Patient Satisfaction and Engagement – Is It Possible?

Patient experience focuses on the steps taken by the health care provider to enrich a patient’s experience, whereas patient engagement centers on the actions taken by a patient to engage in the services provided by the health care professional. While differences between patient experience and engagement are apparent, the two operate hand in hand when understanding the full gambit of a patient’s interaction with health care providers in the modern-day health care landscape. The question is, can a health care provider serve both sides of the spectrum? Can this utopia of patient interaction be achieved? Essentially, the answer is yes, it can, but only by understanding some fundamental levers. Some of these levers are:

  1. Defining the patient. Is the patient one person or should this comprise the patient’s family, friends, and caregivers? When assessing experience and engagement, should experience be focused on the individual’s experience with the provider or on how a patient and his/her family interact with health and wellness programs?
  2. Defining the degree of control. What control does a patient under the “patient engagement” umbrella have in determining their quality of care and level of engagement? When we speak about engagement, how much choice does the patient have? Conversely, does the patient experience relinquish all control, or can there be some middle ground, where the patient can provide input into the patient experience cycle by, for example, completing surveys?
  3. The degree of engagement. If a health care provider has patients who are highly engaged, completing most tasks themselves, is this the ideal degree of engagement? For example, is having patients schedule appointments themselves, leverage technology to pay for bills, and update their health care records the proper amount of engagement? Some believe so and argue patient engagement allows that other elements of care, such as the actual health care service, should be left to the patient experience cycle.  

Final Thoughts

There is undoubtedly an opportunity for health care providers and patients to work within the confines of the patient experience and patient engagement concepts. Advancements in technology, such as online health care records and increased availability of health programs, have created the platform for patient engagement and made it easier for a patient or a patient’s family member/caregiver to manage their health affairs. This has reduced administrative dependency on providers, who can now focus on more pressing facets of the patient experience, such as the level and quality of care provided to patients.

Overall, the outlook appears positive and, in time, health care providers and patients will likely find a comfortable medium between bearing the burden of patient engagement and patient experience.

Adela Ellis, BSN, RN

Adela Ellis is a full-time nurse and part-time ambassador for Infinity Scrubs. Adela attended the University of Arizona and has been a travel nurse for the last 6 years. She enjoys working with different doctors, nurses, and patients from all over the country and blogging about her experiences. In her free time, she loves true-crime podcasts and cooking for friends and family.

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