One of the most commonly discussed ideas in healthcare today is patient engagement – or, more specifically, how healthcare providers can encourage patients to become more engaged in their care. Engagement can take many forms, from keeping appointments and taking medications as prescribed, to owning one’s health and well-being and working with a provider to make decisions. Regardless of the form it takes, one thing is certain: Patient engagement improves outcomes – especially when the patient – rather than the physician – owns his or her health.
The idea of addressing — and supporting — the patient’s role in their own health is known as patient activation, a concept that has been gaining traction over the last few years. In an article in “Health Affairs,” experts identified four specific levels of patient activation:
Level 1: Disengaged. This is when patients feel that they have little to no control over their own health, and their physicians are in control of everything. Patients at this level often feel overwhelmed and are relying on their providers to tell them what to do.
Level 2: Building Awareness. Patients at this level understand that they need to take more control over their health, but they aren’t sure what they should be doing. They still rely on their providers to provide information and guidance, but are open to taking a more active role.
Level 3: Taking Action. Level three patients see themselves as part of their healthcare team, and are working on changing their behaviors and moving toward better health. They take their medications, make recommended changes to their diet and exercise, and work with their providers to improve their overall picture of health.
Level 4: Taking Ownership. The most activated patients, level four patients are those who take full ownership of their health, and act as their own advocates. They not only follow their doctors’ instructions and maintain healthy behaviors, but also research, ask questions, and seek solutions.
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In short, patient activation is a key part of patient engagement, and is based on the patient’s ability to manage his or her own healthcare. It encompasses not only the patient’s skills and knowledge about their condition, but also their willingness to take ownership of their care.
Improving Patient Activation
While reaching patient activation goals is largely dependent on individual patients themselves, there are strategies that providers can use to get their patients more engaged.
One tactic is the use of apps. In fact, a healthcare app strategy that focuses on patient activation can help lower costs, while also improving quality, a priority in today’s value-based care environment. (One study found that patients at the lowest levels of activation incurred healthcare costs as much as 21 percent higher than more activated patients.)
Many of the apps that have been shown to help improve patient activation have similar features, including:
Secure email. Kaiser Permanente is just one healthcare organization that implemented secure emailing into its app, and it has seen patient engagement skyrocket. Giving patients the opportunity to email their providers with questions and concerns has inspired them to reach out to their providers more often. For patients with barriers to seeing their doctors, such as distance or transportation, this technology tool can mean the difference between getting necessary care or becoming sicker.
Self-service features. Apps that remove healthcare inconveniences, such as scheduling appointments, paying bills, and requesting prescription refills, make it easier for patients to see their physicians and stay on track with their care.
EHR connections. Some provider apps allow patients access to their medical records and / or physician notes. In some cases, they even provide patients the opportunity to add their own notes, ensuring that their provider has all necessary information.
Connections to wearables. By connecting fitness trackers, blood pressure monitors, and other wearable health devices to an app, both physicians and patients can monitor progress and make changes as needed.
These are just a few app features that can help improve patient activation and give patients what they need to take charge of their health. But this is just the beginning. To fully leverage technology to support sustainable behavior change, you need an app strategy that meets your organization’s unique goals and your patients’ unique needs. We can help.
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