From Staff to Client: Engagement is Key

As last month’s article highlighted, engagement is critical to building and keeping a good team. The purpose of an engaged team is to provide the best care and service possible to the organization’s clients or patients. And it turns out engagement is critical to that as well. If clients/patients are not keeping appointments, are dropping out, or are failing to meet targeted outcome measures, it is a sign that something is amiss in the service delivery system. Assuming the staff is qualified, motivated, and engaged, then it’s time to ask why clients are not engaging with the services. Several key questions come to mind:

  • Are the services offered the right ones?
  • Are they being delivered in the right way?
  • And at the right time?

The answers to these questions are critical to improving quality at the point of service and at the organizational level. Answering those questions through the lens of a client or patient, i.e., from the perspective of client/patient engagement, is especially useful.

Patient Engagement Requires a Collaborative Approach

Patient or client engagement is about the relationship between the organization’s staff and those it serves, a participatory approach to service design, and a focus on the client/patient experience. Everyone in the organization, from governing board members to direct staff, needs to maintain this focus in designing care, in providing services, and in drafting and implementing policy.

To understand whether the right services are provided, in the right way and at the right time, requires a collaborative approach. At the service delivery level, providers that want to build engagement should pay attention to how well they inform clients/patients about service options and about how the provider sees the issues they are facing. Providers should ensure that the person’s preferences are considered in how services are delivered, and the service decision-making process should be shared. This requires attention to client/patient characteristics (self-perception, beliefs about the provider’s role, education level), societal factors (cultural norms, regulatory and policy constraints), and organizational factors (practices, policies, culture).

At the leadership and governance levels, organizations are well advised to seek client/patient perception of care information, and to include client/patient input. Their input can be invaluable in determining areas of greatest need, which can drive organizational capacity when reviewing service needs and delivery-related policy. In other words, involving an engaged client community can help the organization determine whether it is delivering the right services, in the right way, and in a timely manner at the macro level.

The Impact of Client Engagement

Most people seek services at a time when need is urgent. If service delivery is delayed, or if it fails to meet that individual wherever they are in the desire for help, chances are the individual will not engage effectively. The costs of an unengaged client population is high; so are the rewards of an engaged clientele. Engaged patients, for example, are more likely to be satisfied with their care and have better outcomes (likely with better adherence to a treatment plan arrived at collaboratively). Because treatment is co-designed and adhered to, it is lower in overall cost and more efficient. These build organizational capacity.

Having client/patient input can also positively impact organizational culture. When there is better client/patient participation, it supports employee outcomes and engagement. The organization can then structure service delivery in ways that more effectively pair its competencies (including new ones) with the needs clients/patients have helped prioritize.

In the current environment where payers are focused on outcomes and there is competition among providers of services, staff and client/patient engagement can provide a competitive edge by enhancing retention (providers’ and clients’), lowering costs, and improving effectiveness.

For an excellent infographic on the characteristics and enhancement of patient engagement, go to

About the Author

Maggie Labarta

Maggie Labarta is Founder and Consultant at Impact Non-profit Consulting, having previously retired as CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. Labarta holds a Ph.D. in Clinical and Community Psychology and has extensive experience in both administration and clinical practice. She also has particular expertise in strategic planning, data and analytics as management tools, and organizational development. She provides consultative services for numerous community organizations.

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