Three Pearls for Patient Engagement

In surgery, we use the term “PEARL” to describe a very helpful piece of advice.

Recently I received not one…not two…but THREE PEARLS on the subject of “patient engagement” from fellow surgeon, Dr. Dan Stinner, who I had the pleasure of running into at the Orthopaedic Trauma Association 2016 in National Harbor. 

With Dan’s permission, I’ve taken the three PEARLS he offered me, and put my own unique spin on them for this article. 

But before I jump into talking about those PEARLS, let me take a moment to introduce Dr. Dan.

Meet Dr. Dan Stinner

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from West Point, Dr. Stinner attended the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. He completed his orthopaedic residency at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, including a year of orthopaedic trauma research at the United States Army Institute of Surgical Research. Dan then completed his fellowship in Orthopaedic Trauma at Vanderbilt University, and he served as Assistant Professor of Surgery at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. Today, Dan works as Chairman of the OTA Military Committee, and is on-assignment in London on behalf of the US Army. 

And now that our introduction is over, here are three PEARLS to better patient engagement.

Pearl #1—Make a Connection (Something About Them)

Every surgeon’s goal is to provide truly superior care -  care that infuses patients with confidence and complete trust.

Surgeons rarely forget that their obligation is to the patient and the patient’s well-being, but they don’t always successfully establish that “personal” connection. 

Jot a note in the record (or your rounding list) about the patient’s personal life. Mention it with curiosity during the next visit, and watch for the emotional connection. Take a moment to actually sit down with them and truly listen, and doing so ensure your body language is consistent with your verbal language.

Pearl #2—Make a Connection (Something About You)

What are the boundaries? What is too personal? How do you share something about you? 

Surgeons tend to be both modest and highly critical of themselves, despite the more braggadocios personality-type typically projected in those hospital dramas on TV. That’s what makes the biosheet (see attached) so great. It is a convenient way for surgeons to introduce their credentials and expertise without being remotely arrogant.  

The biosheet can also be an opportunity to offer a personal statement explaining who you are, what you do, and what your passions (hobbies) are outside of work. 

When seeking shared decision making, the biosheet is something tangible for patients to hold onto and draw confidence and connection from. 

Pearl #3—Provide Supplemental Information (Something More)

Being a successful surgeon means adhering to a number of demands, and those demands mean only a limited amount of time can be spent with each patient.

To make up for that limited face time and to ensure you’re maximizing engagement with each patient, leave them with supplemental information or resources they can use to learn more about anything related to their surgery, including you.

Whether by clarifying expectations or stimulating patients to ask questions relevant to their care, the supplemental information will always lead to more effective shared decision-making. The better patients can understand what they’re facing in terms of a surgical condition and treatment, the more likely they are to positively engage with the healing experience.