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Meeting the Challenge of Patient Engagement

By jfellows@healthleadersmedia.com  
   August 26, 2015

Such situations present a challenge for physicians, too, as they try to figure out how to get patients more involved in taking care of their disease outside of a hospital or exam room.

Last year, Jones recounted her struggle with barriers to care in front of a group of physicians who had gathered for the AMA interim meeting in Dallas. But she was a different person than she was in 2009. At 150 pounds and free of diabetes, Jones gave the room full of doctors advice on engaging patients: "Don't overwhelm a patient with information," she told them. "Patients are in crisis mode and can't handle very much."

Jones, who did not have any type of weight-loss surgery, and did not even take action to diet or exercise until 2012, says what kept her engaged and got her motivated to lose weight was the relationship she formed with Christopher Berry, MD, a family practitioner who has worked at three area nonprofit health clinics that care for low-income and uninsured patients. This is the patient population that Berry says he is passionate about working with.

The pair first met at Worth Street Clinic, a facility run by Baylor Scott & White Health, the Dallas-based healthcare system that includes 46 hospitals and 500 outpatient care sites. But, when Berry moved to become to be chief medical officer at a similar clinic, Mission East Dallas, Jones followed him.

"I come from a background of abuse," says Jones. "It's hard for me to trust anybody, and I'd come to trust Dr. Berry. I felt like he knew me. I wanted to go where he went."

Berry says Jones is the kind of engaged patient all physicians want—but rarely get.

"I have less than five 'Brenda' stories," says Berry. "Lifestyle is hard to change. What I've learned is that diabetes, depression, and obesity is a lot like treating addiction, in terms of hitting rock bottom. Doctors treat addiction in a certain way—to be compassionate. That's helped me think differently."

Berry's medical training was also slightly different. He completed the In His Image Family Medicine Residency Program, a Tulsa, Oklahoma–based program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The Christian-based program trains physicians to be compassionate and unafraid to tap into their spiritual side with patients.

Berry is not out to convert patients to Christianity, but he does pray with them, if they want. He did pray with Jones and says that spiritual dimension of care is a big part of their story.

Jacqueline Fellows is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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