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Maximizing Patient Engagement: Innovative Strategies for Functional Medicine Practices

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Maximizing Patient Engagement: Innovative Strategies for Functional Medicine Practices

Guiding patients to play an active role in their care is an integral component of functional medicine. A paradigm of doctor-patient partnership is highly valued in functional medicine, with active engagement of patients leading to better health outcomes and a deeper understanding of one’s health and well-being. Playing an active role in one’s care leads to more informed choices and personalized treatment plans that can be molded to each patient’s unique needs and lifestyles. Innovative strategies such as interactive health education tools, creating supportive communities around health, and using technology to enhance the patient experience can all lead to better patient engagement and, thus, better health outcomes in the long term.  


Understanding Patient Engagement in Functional Medicine

Patient engagement refers to the opportunity and desire to play an active role in one’s healthcare alongside practitioners and an overall care team to help maximize the benefits of a given health plan. This is opposed to a model of care where a patient just “receives instructions” and is expected to follow accordingly without engaging in the process. In functional medicine, practitioners aim to bring the patient directly into the care plan, providing opportunities for engagement and feedback. This can be done through the enhancement of doctor-patient communication opportunities, interactive patient resources to provide more education around a care plan, and using health monitoring devices to help gain insight into daily behaviors and finetune a care plan in real-time.  

Having patients play an active role in their care can lead to better treatment outcomes, improved patient health and satisfaction, and even better productivity for practitioners. It’s important to consider aspects of healthcare such as the doctor-patient relationship, appointment length, communication options outside of appointments, and understanding of each patient’s “baseline” in terms of health knowledge when figuring out how to increase and sustain better patient engagement.  

Personalizing Patient Communication

A great way to increase patient engagement is to bring in personalized communication methods into patient care plans. The ability to directly message patients and send personalized educational resources tailored to each patient’s unique goals can increase patient engagement and outcomes and support ongoing, regular communication between patients and their care teams. Personalizing messaging and communication with patients also may help patients feel more seen and heard, increasing their trust with their care time.

Patient portals are another tool that can help welcome patients into your practice and further personalize the patient experience. Patients can directly access their records, upload labs, and message their care team using online portals, streamlining the patient experience and making it easier than ever to manage their cases. Personalized emails, resources, and educational materials can be shared in the portal, allowing patients to access these tools in one place for better compliance.

Additionally, health apps such as continuous glucose monitor apps or other wearable technology can help practitioners and patients look at health data in real-time and connect to finetune and customize care plans based on unique patient results.  

Interactive Health Education and Resources

In today’s digital age, there are many different ways for practitioners and care teams to provide interactive and educational resources to patients to help them better understand their health and increase engagement. For example, podcasts are a popular way to share actionable health information with a large audience. Rupa Health’s podcast, The Root Cause Medicine Podcast, highlights industry experts who share educational information and action steps on various health topics and makes for a great resource to share with patients. Additionally, Rupa Health Magazine is a written outlet vetted by experts that shares educational articles as well as case studies, making the magazine a helpful educational tool to share with patients.

Practitioners can also put on workshops and webinars to help educate patients on specific topics and help them better understand their treatment plans, providing opportunities for patients to ask questions and get more involved in their care. This allows practitioners to share their time more efficiently, while also giving patients the opportunity to learn more and interact with questions on various health topics.  

Leveraging Technology for Engagement

Technology helps bridge the gap between patient visits and what happens between visits so that both doctor and patient can assess how a given plan works and adjust as needed in real time. For example, telehealth visits, as well as mobile apps that provide a secure way to message between visits, can help address any questions or concerns that come up sooner rather than later so that valuable time and energy aren’t lost on waiting for the next appointment.  

Additionally, mobile health apps and wearable devices can give doctor and patient feedback about different health metrics, such as sleep quality, daily movement, blood sugar levels, heart rate variability, and more. Having regular insight into a patient’s health metrics can help practitioners better assess the efficacy of a health plan and help patients make connections between their daily habits and the impact of those habits on their health overall.

Involving Patients in Treatment Planning

Involving patients in their treatment planning is important to the doctor-patient relationship in functional medicine practices. Having patients actively play a role in goal setting and making decisions related to their care, with guidance and education provided by the practitioner, can set functional medicine apart in terms of patient satisfaction and efficacy of care long-term.

Practitioners and their teams can employ various strategies to help encourage collaborative treatment planning and track patient progress over time. It should be noted that while many practitioners may tend to focus on data, facts, and logic to convince patients to make changes to their lifestyle, a mindset shift is often essential to move into more active conversations with patients where practitioners can better understand the patient’s worldview and employ more active listening and open-ended questioning to encourage patient engagement and compliance. Practitioners and their teams can encourage this engagement through regular check-ins on patient portals, consistent review of data and health metrics from wearables, and having ongoing conversations with patients to reconnect their action steps to their goals.

Building a Community Around Wellness

While health interventions often focus on dietary strategies or disease management, the importance of having a supportive network and community can’t be ignored. Those with a supportive community tend to have better health outcomes, a longer health span, and less likelihood of mental health concerns than those who feel isolated and alone.  

There are many different ways that functional medicine practitioners can incorporate a sense of community into their practice, whether that be having live community events. In these online forums, people can post questions and connect, or even hosting group programs on specific health topics to bring patients in a similar place together while working towards their health goals.

Having peer support options in place can help drive motivation and engagement, especially in the digital health landscape. The sense of belonging that comes with a motivating community can help increase patient engagement and participation in care plans, whether individual or as part of a bigger group program directly alongside others.  

Feedback Mechanisms and Continuous Improvement

An important component of care plans that encourage patient engagement is a system to collect patient feedback to understand patient needs, preferences, and progress. This could look like regular patient surveys or feedback forms filled out at specified intervals that ask a few targeted questions about the patient’s care plan and progress, or it could be regularly scheduled check-ins via telehealth or a patient portal messaging system. Having regular, consistent feedback is going to provide the data needed to streamline practice efficiency and patient care while also bringing to light any gaps in care perceived by patients to be hindering their progress.  

As patients voice their likes and dislikes and provide feedback to a practitioner and their team, they will also see their treatment plan and support adjusted in real-time, building their trust and confidence in their practitioner. Trust between practitioner and patient is key to ongoing success and the best long-term results.

Overcoming Barriers to Patient Engagement

It’s important to consider what barriers patients may face that may make it difficult for them to engage and play a more active role in their care. Patient literacy and language barriers can impede communication, making it essential for practitioners and their teams to make resources simple to understand and have translations available if needed. A huge barrier for many patients is not only lacking a comprehensive knowledge about their health condition but also how their daily actions and habits can make all the difference in recovering from that condition. This is where educational resources and more frequent touchpoints with a patient can be helpful.

While technology access has made the barrier of transportation much less pressing, it brings with it a new barrier for some generations - that of needing to understand how to use various devices needed for telehealth visits, health apps, or wearable health technology. Having a team member show patients how to use any required technology pieces of their care plan at an initial visit can go a long way in ensuring the patient will actually use apps and other devices.


Maximizing Patient Engagement: Final Thoughts

Maximizing patient engagement is a key aspect of a patient-centered care approach typical of functional medicine. Leveraging modern-day technology and emphasizing educational resources, alongside consistent communication with patients, are innovative strategies to increase the role patients play in their care. Building in the community and providing more support for patients from their peers also provide an avenue to improve engagement and overall health plan delivery. Once patients play a more active role in their care, data trends suggest their overall health outcomes improve. 

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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