Canada ranks middle of the pack on patient engagement

Sep 22, 2011, 08:00 ET from Health Council of Canada

The Health Council of Canada's latest report identifies time as the biggest barrier to patient engagement

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TORONTO, Sept. 22, 2011 /PRNewswire/ - Today, the Health Council of Canada releases How Engaged are Canadians in their Primary Care?,  an in-depth look at patient engagement through the lens of the 2010 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey.

Among 10 other countries, who take part in the Commonwealth Fund Survey, Canada falls exactly in the middle percentage range when it pertains to patient engagement. New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland have the most engaged patients at 68%, 63% and 59% respectively. These same countries in a past Commonwealth survey (2010) earned high ratings from citizens on access, affordability, timeliness and coordination of care.

The report takes a deeper look into patient engagement in Canada and reveals that overall, more engaged patients perceive themselves to be healthier and better use the health services and resources in the system. However, the report finds that only 48% of Canadians feel involved and are actively participating in their own health care. That means less than half of Canadians are taking a more active role in maintaining their health and oftentimes leading to increased satisfaction with their care. Engaged patients are more likely to make active efforts to participate in disease prevention, screening and health promotion activities.

The biggest barrier to patient engagement is time. Increasing patient expectations are placing greater demands on doctors' time. Not having enough time with their doctor keeps many Canadians from feeling engaged in their care. Feeling rushed during appointments is a key barrier to engagement. Patients want more time with their doctors. Physicians need more time.

Alternatively, the report found that Canadians are more likely to feel engaged if they believed it was easy for them to access care. In fact, of the 27% of Canadians who believed it was easy to get answers via telephone with their doctor's offices, 71% were considered engaged patients. Furthermore, patients are almost twice as likely to be engaged if someone follows up to give them their test results.

"Patients are more likely to feel engaged if they believe that their time has not been wasted; if they have access to their primary care providers and understand the information being provided to them," says John G. Abbott, CEO of the Health Council of Canada. "But the responsibility rests between both the patient and the physician to ensure both parties are involved and satisfied in the care."

The report provides tips for physicians on how to re-design their service around patient needs and for patients on how to be more involved in their care. For example, physicians can talk more with their patients and find out if they feel involved, and ask someone in their office to follow-up with a patient on test results regardless of whether the news is negative or positive. Patients, on the other hand, can come to their appointment prepared. They can bring a list of questions to their appointment, describe their symptoms accurately, and ask for clarity or more information from their physicians when required.

The report notes that governments and policy makers are working on a variety of structural changes to relieve the time pressures that create barriers to more involvement between physicians and their patients.  For example:

  • Implementation of team-based care across some provinces have been able to free up physicians' time to see patients who need their clinical skills.
  • Through the execution of electronic health records, patients' medical history is easily available for all providers involved in care, which makes patients feel their time was not wasted, and their care was organized well and test results or records were readily available at every visit.

About Patient Engagement             
For the purposes of this report a patient is defined as engaged by their physician if all of the following criteria have been satisfied. Patients must be involved in their decision making, provided adequate time during visits and provided the opportunity to ask questions about recommended treatment.

About the Health Council of Canada
Created by the 2003 First Ministers' Accord on Health Care Renewal, the Health Council of Canada is an independent national agency that reports on the progress of health care renewal. The Council provides a system-wide perspective on health care reform in Canada, and disseminates information on best practices and innovation across the country. The Councillors are appointed by the participating provincial and territorial governments and the Government of Canada.

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SOURCE Health Council of Canada