Promoting Patient Engagement in Rehab Therapy: Strategies That Work

When it comes to rehabilitation therapy, patient commitment and effort are essential to good outcomes. When therapists work collaboratively with their patients to identify their personal goals, patients are motivated to commit to therapy interventions and expend greater effort. In other words, to promote patient engagement in rehab therapy, you must start with the individual patient’s motivation and work together toward optimal outcomes.

Getting patients more engaged in their rehab therapy can be tricky even for the most experienced therapists. Patients may be reluctant to fully engage for a variety of reasons. Inhibiting factors might be low confidence or fear of injury. Some patients may have low levels of health literacy, and others may experience cultural barriers that prevent them from fully participating in their rehabilitation. Many more patients simply cannot define or articulate their expectations and goals for rehab therapy.

As a therapist, promoting patient engagement may require attention to your own effort and commitment to learning and utilizing a range of strategies.

Improving Patient Engagement in Rehab Therapy

Determine the Patient’s Goals

Patients can have wide-ranging expectations when it comes to rehab therapy and an even wider range of ways of expressing their vision of success. Many patients have difficulty identifying or articulating their goals, especially after experiencing a life-altering condition that prevents them from performing daily activities or simply enjoying time with their families.

Understanding the patient’s point of view is a complex process — one that requires training, skill, and experience. One way to begin is to interview the patient to explore what matters most to the individual in terms of rehabilitation. But merely asking patients a series of questions may not always provide the answers therapists need to fully understand the patients’ true expectations for meaningful outcomes.

Instead of simply asking questions, having a conversation with the patient can help you draw out the specific challenges and successes the individual envisions. You can ask about the activities the patient enjoys and have the patient rate those activities in order of importance. These conversations provide an opportunity for patients to set realistic and meaningful goals that they feel are worth working toward.

Use Empathy and Compassion To Build Trust

Trust is essential to achieving positive outcomes, and building patient trust takes skill and experience. When a clinician works with a patient to build trust, that alliance can motivate the patient to have stronger outcome expectations, feelings of self-efficacy, and better adherence to treatment, according to research on health outcomes.

Showing empathy and compassion are important as you strive to build trust. Using words to show empathy and actions to show compassion can help therapists build a trusting alliance to promote patient engagement in rehab therapy. This approach includes taking time to listen to patients and making eye contact.

Set Attainable Goals and Readjust as Necessary

Work with your patients to set attainable benchmarks that lead them to their larger goals. If your patient wants greater stamina, for example, you might use a six-minute walk test. This test can also help patients understand how well they are performing compared with their peers. Many patients respond positively to the challenge of competing with others.

Reassess patients’ progress as needed, and invite patients to participate in the reassessment process. Ask them how they feel about their progress, how they are managing their pain, and whether they think they need to adjust their goals.

Offer Options and Collaboration

Research shows that patients who are actively involved in their own care have better outcomes. You can help your patients feel more in control of their care — and their outcomes — by discussing different interventions that can help them reach their goals. Giving patients choices about the interventions that will help them reach their personal targets will fuel commitment and effort.

By putting your patient in the driver’s seat, you can work together to create tailored interventions focused on the intensity, frequency, and goals identified by the individual. In other words, patients identify the targets, and you help them navigate the steps toward achieving those goals.

Your collaborative relationship will probably differ slightly with each patient, along with the individual’s expectations, past experiences, and ability to participate. Your collaborative interactions may change throughout the course of the treatment program, as patients’ needs, priorities, overall health, and living situations shift. In many cases, you will need to adjust the strategies you use to promote patient engagement to fit those shifts and resulting modifications to patients’ goals.

Educate and Empower Your Patients

Education is an important component of patient engagement. It helps patients make informed decisions about their care and stay involved in their treatment plans. Teach your patients about their conditions, and provide tips on how to do home exercises, manage their pain, and improve their overall health. Engaging in home exercises helps optimize the effects of rehabilitation therapy, of course, while reducing pain can help patients work a longer and harder during therapy sessions.

Recognizing Patient Autonomy

Exercising autonomy helps patients feel more in control in their rehabilitation and more confident in their ability to achieve their goals. In fact, research shows that merely recognizing a patient’s autonomy can increase the effectiveness of care and even lead to improved health outcomes.

Many patients feel confident in their ability to reach their goals early in the rehabilitation process. Rehab therapy involves a long-term commitment and a substantial amount of work, however, and this confidence can wane over time. Throughout the process, you can reinforce autonomy to help your patients stay engaged and on track for success.

Reinforcing Autonomy in Rehabilitation

Reinforcing autonomy involves encouraging the patient to stay in control over their rehab therapy. Throughout the rehabilitation process, collaboration often includes offering encouragement in the form of positive statements, such as:

“The goals you set are worth the effort.”

“You are doing the work you need to do to reach your goals.”

“Look how far you’ve come.”

Promoting patient engagement increases the likelihood that your patients will not only follow through with therapy interventions, but also put their full effort into every session. Patient engagement can result in enhanced patient outcomes, greater satisfaction and loyalty, positive ratings, and even more referrals to your rehabilitation clinic or facility.

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Lynn Hetzler has been a leading writer in the medical field for 20 years. She specializes in creating informative and engaging medical content for patients, researchers, providers, and leaders in healthcare.

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