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From Therapist to Patient Engagement

Physiotherapist, Carl Adams, tells us the reasons that have led him to become a Patient and Community Engagement Manager and why he feels patient and community engagement is so important to the present and future of healthcare.

Over the years, working as a physiotherapist, I have become accustomed to the culture in which we find ourselves, where we do things ‘to’ people rather than doing things ‘with’ people. We inject them, bandage them, medicate them, tell them what to do, and send them on their merry way.

It is my unease with this culture that has inspired me to look into how we can meaningfully engage with those that use our services, to enable us to deliver care that is truly designed in partnership with our patients and communities.

I could never have imagined when I started my career as a clinician that my experiences would ignite a passion for engaging people who use our services and lead me to my current role: Patient and Community Manager. When I reflect on the reasons that have led me to become so fiercely passionate, three come to mind:

Reason no 1. Working in partnership can achieve long-term benefits

Three years ago, I started a Trainee Consultant Practitioner Programme through Health Education England - Wessex. The programme was centred around achieving personal and professional objectives, one of which focuses on clinical expertise. At the beginning of the programme, I struggled to identify which area of clinical care I wanted to develop my expertise in. I didn’t want to inject people, attach things to people or tell people what they should do. Through this process, I learnt that doing things ‘to’ people wasn’t ‘me’ and instead I developed expert knowledge, skills and confidence to ‘support people’ to achieve their ambition to lead a better life. I later applied this way of working to my clinical role and started achieving positive long-term patient benefits.

Reason no. 2: Clinicians don’t have all the answers

Clinicians aren’t always the experts; in fact, it is the patient that is often the expert of their condition. People are now living longer, with more complex, long-term conditions. This has created an increased strain on the current healthcare system and is already seeing services changing and improving how they deliver care to meet the new demand. In a lot of instances, these improvements are being led by clinicians, who assume that they are the experts in what their patients need. But what if these sparkly new improvements fail to live up to patients’ expectations? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to involve patients in the improvement process to make sure we get it right first time?

Services working with patients with long-term conditions need to work in partnership. Engaging with patients gives us a better understanding of what they require from healthcare services. Let’s establish and improve services together and deliver what patients want. Let’s listen, really listen to understand the patient experience and together we can build services to meet the demands.

Reason no.3: Other industries are already getting it right

In almost all other industries, businesses put customer experience and feedback at the heart of what they do. You wouldn’t build a BMW without fully knowing what the customer wanted from their driving experience. IKEA visited 800 houses in India to learn how people live in their homes, prior to laying the foundations for the country’s first IKEA store, because understanding what the customer wants and needs is the key to success.

If I was going to build healthcare services from scratch, I would take a leaf out of IKEA’s book and work very closely with the people who are going to use them.

It’s time to engage beyond token feedback forms and access the knowledge and expertise of patients to work together to improve services. The great news is patients are eager to tell their story, give their opinions and ideas, and work in partnership with us - we just need to give them the opportunity.


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