One Patient's Engagement May Have Saved Her Life

How a patient feels about the quality of care they receive depends on the quality of interactions they engage in with their doctor. There are numerous reasons as to why patients do not regularly see their doctor; it could be because they don’t feel valued, or maybe it’s just because they have forgotten to make an appointment.

Regardless, as physicians, we should be encouraging our patients to be seen regularly and that begins by building a relationship with them. One day I had a nurse call a patient of mine to inquire about scheduling her over-due mammogram. It had been two years since I last seen Mary. I knew because she was between the ages of 50-74 she needed to have a mammogram.

Mary was completely shocked when she discovered that our office was keeping up with her health records, despite her infrequent visits.  She had always trusted our medical advice, but her busy schedule and good health kept her from coming in for preventive visits.

When a relationship is already established, this sets the stage for patient engagement. Since patients know us, there is an automatic trust conveyed and they are more likely to do what we ask.

Mary expressed her sincere appreciation for the telephone call and agreed to have a mammogram scheduled as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the results came back with unpleasant news. Mary had early breast cancer.

Dr. Lawrence Rosen, one of the country’s leading integrative pediatricians, describes a patient interaction as, “a two-way engagement.” Furthermore, a relationship with patients, “requires an intention, a willingness to be present, to show up and engage with our patients in a way that is mutually respectful and says, “I am here with you and what you have to say matters as much as what I have to say.””

When Mary came into my office, after finding out the dreadful news, she shared her concerns, I offered medical advice and we mutually agreed to a plan that worked for her.

From the initial phone call, Mary knew that we were not calling her to make money; we had no financial interest in that. Our simple reminder phone call was enough evidence for Mary to continue putting her health in our hands and it ended up possibly saving her life!

I do not know for sure if Mary would have reacted the same way to the requests being made by her insurance company. What I do know is that Mary was motivated to have her mammogram because she knew her health was our main concern and she trusted our advice.

Patients are motivated to engage in their health because of relationships with their doctors. As we have already discussed is past blog posts, these relationships result in pleasure for patients and physicians, encourage patient motivation and engagement and overall they improve patient’s health outcomes.