Health & Fitness

Challenges of Patient Engagement in Healthcare

As more healthcare providers make it a priority to establish good patient engagement systems in their practices, it has become evident that it is easier said than done. While communication can be easily pinpointed as a challenge facing healthcare patient engagement, it is clear that many other challenges need to be tackled.

Patient engagement involves more than just communicating with patients. The end goal of patient engagement is proactive patients which is not so easy to achieve. For any healthcare providers trying to establish patient engagement systems in their organizations, facilities, or practices, it is important to not only understand the challenges they may face but also have an idea of how to deal with these situations.

What is Patient Engagement?

Patient engagement is a concept that is not so easy to define. It is not just one method or strategy, but rather is a system of incorporating multiple strategies that encourage patients to play an active role in their healthcare. The purpose of a good patient engagement system is to have patients and providers working in harmony when it comes to the patient’s health.

Patient engagement rose from a need for patients to have a bigger say in their own health. In the past, and still prevailing in the present, most patients have played a passive role in their healthcare. Providers give instructions that patients abide by and give diagnoses with no explanations. Healthcare providers are indeed professionals, but that doesn’t mean that the patient shouldn’t play a vital role in their healthcare.

Thus, patient engagement is a system of strategies and practices incorporated into a healthcare system to encourage patients to work together with their healthcare providers to improve their health.

The Challenges of Patient Engagement

Patient engagement is a dynamic landscape that is filled with challenges and obstacles for both patients and healthcare professionals to overcome. When trying to establish patient engagement, it is important to understand factors that affect it such as the patient’s diagnoses, financial constraints, and others.

For patients who are only stepping into the doctor’s office for the first time, it would be ridiculous to assume that they can be fully activated in one fifteen-minute visit. For this kind of patient, it is important to use quick and direct methods to encourage engagement. On the other hand, patients who visit frequently and have designated physicians will have to be engaged with different, long-lasting methods.

Keeping these factors in mind helps organizations and healthcare providers understand the root cause of whatever challenges they are facing. With a better understanding of the peculiarities of a patient, it will be easier for healthcare providers to tackle whatever challenges may arise due to these factors.

At the bottom line, the greater responsibility for patient engagement falls on the healthcare providers. This is why it is up to providers to work on the solutions as well. Some of these challenges that might be encountered when trying to establish patient engagement include:

Patient’s attitudes

Patient engagement tactics aim at placing more responsibility on patients when it comes to managing their symptoms, taking their medication, and many other tasks. Things like personal care and upkeep of health should be placed in the patient’s hands, as it is beneficial to both the patient and healthcare provider if the patient takes good care of their health. However, many patients are uninterested in taking on this responsibility. In a lot of cases, patients have only requested to know ‘the basics’ of their diagnoses or have only committed to what their healthcare providers have deemed essential.

There are also many cases of patients who believe that their daily health is their healthcare provider’s responsibility and not theirs. They are unwilling to put in the work to begin and maintain healthy habits that will make healthcare easier for all parties involved. The first step to establishing patient engagement will have to be deconstructing patients’ attitudes and ideologies regarding healthcare which can take some time.

Cultural backgrounds

Working with diverse patients often means that healthcare providers have to deal with people with all kinds of beliefs and systems. This can be a big challenge to patient engagement as the beliefs and cultures of people may be counter-productive to their healthcare. Some people may have cultural practices that are detrimental to them and it is a challenge to convince them to stop these practices. In some cases, people come in with belief systems and preconceived notions about healthcare and medicine.

In all of these cases, it is most important to remain respectful and patient when explaining things to patients and not become aggravated or condescending. Patient engagement is about working in harmony with patients, not forcing them to do or stop doing anything.

Patient literacy

Poor health literacy from patients is one of the biggest challenges facing patient engagement today. Both health literacy and education literacy work as barriers to patients understanding their health conditions or taking active steps to improve their health. The average person may not know what seems like the most basic things related to taking care of their health or managing their symptoms. This can lead to patients inadvertently worsening their conditions.

Educational literacy also poses a challenge to patient engagement as one of the pillars of engagement is communication. Patients with little to no education may find it harder to understand when a healthcare provider tries to explain medical processes or treatment options to them.

Inefficient communication

Poor communication can be a fault of both the patient and the healthcare provider. Communication is the primary way to establish good patient engagement. There needs to be an abundance of questions from both sides of the relationship. When patients don’t feel like they can ask their healthcare providers questions or offer their thoughts, opinions, and decisions, it becomes a problem. Likewise, when healthcare providers don’t check in with patients, ask them if they understand, and provide them with opportunities to communicate, the system is ineffective.

Both patients and providers need to be dedicated to establishing an open line of communication between themselves as well as establishing trust.

How to Address the Challenges

The challenges to patient engagement are not insurmountable, they just require hard and dedicated work from both sides. Dealing with specific challenges to engagement should be done on a case-by-case basis, but here are some general tips to help with boosting patient engagement in the face of challenges:

Ask patients

Communicating with patients cannot be overstated as a means of establishing patient engagement. Instead of assuming what a patient is thinking or going through, the most efficient way to determine how to help them overcome any challenges they are facing is to ask them. If you find that patients are unresponsive to engagement methods that you have put in place, get feedback from them on what works and what doesn’t.

Patient feedback is the biggest metric that can be used to mark how efficient an engagement system is. The only way to truly know how the engagement level of a patient is to ask them.

Work at the patient’s level

When healthcare providers meet patients halfway and work with what they are given, it makes the patient more comfortable. If a patient is at a point where they still have wrong beliefs or faulty mentalities, set small and realistic steps for them to slowly work up to full health literacy. This involves a lot of patience and understanding from healthcare professionals. Some patients may need frequent in-person visits while some patients may need assistance in monitoring their symptoms. Wherever the patient’s level is, meet them there.

Engage with the patient’s family

In most cases, the close family and friends of a patient are also going to be involved in their healthcare and wellbeing. This is especially true for patients dealing with chronic or long-lasting conditions. As a primary healthcare provider, it is important to not only encourage patients to be more engaged but also encourage their families.

Senior doctor with patient’s family talking about medical chart.

Training programs for healthcare providers

When implementing a new system, it is necessary to provide proper training and education to healthcare professionals on how the system works. This means educating healthcare professionals on how to engage with patients, the ways they can provide patients with opportunities for shared decision-making, and more. If the organization is introducing new communication technology, each of the practitioners working there will need to be capable of handling the systems and explaining their functions to patients.

Training programs that teach how to talk to patients, resolution strategies, and more are critical to ensure that healthcare providers are working in a system and not just trying to engage based on their own whims.


Patient engagement is not a one-time fix, but a series of long and short-term systems and structures. The best way to determine the level of patient engagement in an organization is to ask the patients, which is a form of patient engagement in and of itself. Ensuring that patients are not overwhelmed, ill-equipped, or side-lined is essential to patient engagement. With time and dedication, patient engagement will increase and lead to higher patient satisfaction and outcomes.

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