How Organizations Can Humanize Patient Engagement

A popular concept in healthcare over the past decade is “patient engagement.” What exactly is meant by patient engagement varies, but most sources define it as patients actively participating in and managing their own healthcare to achieve better outcomes. Jim Hoyme, PT, MBA and Chief Executive Officer of the physical therapy management services organization Therapy Partners, has his own take on patient engagement, stating that successful patient engagement is accomplished when a provider or health care team has created an emotional connection and trusting relationship with a patient.

“A patient who is highly engaged with his or her providers not only feels a trust in them, but has also developed a strong belief in what they say, what they do, and what they encourage or instruct the patient to do,” says Hoyme. “This sense of belief and trust influences the patient to complete all aspects of his or her plan of care, diligently follow through on all self-management instructions and readily return to the provider whenever they run into problems.”

I believe Hoyme’s definition adds a more humanistic perspective to healthcare delivery. It suggests that patient engagement is more closely related to an emotional connection between people, which empowers patients to take responsibility for their health. This definition emphasizes how trust and belief can lead to behavioral changes, such as improved participation in health management.

Improving Patient Engagement at the Individual Level

Trust and belief are very powerful emotions that take time to cultivate. So how can providers best harness these feelings to enhance patient engagement?

  1. Be caring.People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” says Hoyme. As a physical therapist, the most common complaints I hear from patients are, (1) my doctor didn’t listen to me and (2) my doctor didn’t put his hands on me. Active listening and a compassionate touch are powerful ways to plant the seeds of trust to enrich patient engagement. Active listening can be accomplished by repeating back ideas expressed by patients, communicating with open body language, and applying motivational interviewing techniques to let the patient know he or she is being heard. Placing a hand on a patient’s shoulder conveys empathy. If a patient mentions concerns, providers should address them as soon as possible.
  2. Have a patient-centered mindset. Espousing a patient-centered mindset requires providers to be accommodating, helpful, and inquisitive about patient goals and expectations. Working on activities and goals that have been decided upon by the patient will empower them to come to prescribed therapy visits and adhere to self-management.

Improving Patient Engagement at an Organizational Level

Strong patient engagement is not effective without strong employee engagement. Therefore, it is essential that organizations invest in forming a successful and inclusive culture. Organizational culture can determine whether team members are highly engaged or disinterested in a company’s mission. Culture is established by management, reinforced by employees and experienced by patients. The basis of a strong culture—similar to effective patient engagement—is trust between the employees and company leadership.

“If team members don’t feel tightly connected to the practice through shared values, an inspirational vision, respect for leadership, close relationships with co-workers, learning and growth opportunities, and feeling valued, they will not prioritize patient engagement,” says Hoyme. “As team members become more engaged, they will step up and find innovative ways to serve patients.

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Hoyme has served as a consultant for physical therapy companies across the United States to enhance organizational patient and employee engagement.

“If a leader wants to create a truly effective patient engagement program, it starts with establishing mechanisms to have a highly engaged team.”

These mechanisms include:

  1. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is the way an organization thinks and feels. Hoyme suggests practice owners write 5-7 words that describe the culture they want to create and maintain. Those words should focus on serving both the customer and the employee and should be communicated regularly to staff. Additionally, management has a responsibility to hire people that match the values of the organization.
  2. Make a commitment. If engagement is the goal, leadership should be fully committed to dedicating resources to enhance both employee and patient engagement.
  3. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Outcomes are an essential part of today’s healthcare climate and organizations should measure their progress with employee and patient engagement. Hoyme suggests using the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Tool, which measures employee perception of their engagement, and the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures customer engagement.
  4. Hold regular meetings to analyze results. Analyze the results of these outcome measures quarterly and discuss them at regular staff and organizational meetings until the desired results are achieved. Leaders should establish an action plan for continued improvement of both patient and employee engagement.
  5. Everyone is an influencer. Your employees are your most powerful tool in instituting successful patient engagement. Be inclusive, encourage team members to positively influence their colleagues, and seek input and feedback from each employee.

Effective healthcare delivery requires cultivation of trust—trust between the employee and employer, the patient and provider, and the customer and organization. The foundation for successful patient engagement is forged when the provider-patient relationship empowers the healthcare consumer to live a healthy life. 


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One thought on “How Organizations Can Humanize Patient Engagement

  1. I 100% agree that patient relationships are extremely important. I have had many patients tell me how happy it makes them that even I at reception will remember their name or specific details they have told me about themselves after even one meeting. Our entire office makes it a point to engage in our patients mentally as well as their physical health.

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