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What the "E" in E-Patient Really Means

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, May 28, 2013

To e-Patient Dave's credit, he doesn't believe that giving information to patients, however necessary, will be sufficient to improve healthcare. "Information alone doesn't change behavior," he writes. "Even for smart people." We must also "make it easier to do the right thing," and make the messages that healthcare delivers to patients clear and concise. He recounts the great story from former Wired magazine executive editor Thomas Goetz, who asked the magazine's art directors to make his blood test results look like an investment report. "They came back with snazzy, easy-to-read graphics: a bar for each number, green at the good end, red at the bad end, and an arrow showing where he sits."

DeBronkart also notes that through the Internet, patients are sharing more information about the side effects of treatments and procedures than they typically receive at their traditional points of care. In fact, in his own recovery from kidney cancer,deBronkart's oncologist, David McDermott, MD, told him, "I'm not sure you could have tolerated enough medicine if you hadn't been so well prepared."

There's one more "e" that deBronkart tackles in the book's appendix, and in many ways, it's the biggest "e" of all: expectations. "Medicine can be dangerous, and clinicians work without a net," he writes. "Medicine is complicated and our systems are not fail-safe."

Sometimes, fallible systems can be made safer. DeBronkart reveals that "anesthesia errors were greatly reduced when the hoses for different gases' hoses were made to be different sizes, so you can no longer pump the wrong gas into the wrong hose … in medicine, such protections are often absent."

As you try to implement "patient engagement" in your health system, remember that it's all of a piece. Hear the patients. Let information flow. Manage expectations. And look for clarity in every process and technology, to avoid errors and speed workflow. That's true engagement.


Scott Mace is senior technology editor at HealthLeaders Media.
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2 comments on "What the "E" in E-Patient Really Means"


Lori (5/31/2013 at 12:35 AM)
A most excellent article. I have included a link to it in my latest post.

Derek Forman (5/28/2013 at 1:52 PM)
Great article, right to the point, the more informed patients are the the more empowered and engaged they become-all leading to a greater partnership in their care. I just downloaded the E version of "Let Patients Help!" and look forward to a great read!!