Patient engagement or patient activation?

In our innovation work with health providers we’ve learned to distinguish between patient engagement and patient activation, two very important but different ways of creating value in digital products.

Patient engagement is a broad concept that combines patient connectivity to their health care provider & personal health data, and their consistent participation in consultations, treatments or activities that promote health and positive behavior.

Engagement also includes – and is supported by – patient activation, the extent to which a patient's knowledge and skills create the ability and willingness to manage their own health care, ideally in partnership with health providers.

More and more digital tools – including BreatheAware – enhance aspects of communication, scheduling and health data management to improve patient engagement. But patient activation products are still largely missing from the modern provider practice.

Here’s a real-life example: a friend recently experienced panic attacks related to pregnancy, so before prescribing medication her OB-GYN encouraged her to “search online” for breathing apps she’d heard can help. A great idea, but the doctor couldn’t name, recommend or set my friend up with a trusted product while in the office. There’s a huge opportunity for providers to lead patients in their self-care, nurture better personal health management skills, and grow trust with their patient. Photocopied pamphlets just don’t do the trick anymore.

Here is some more evidence. Studies show that, compared to less activated patients, activated patients experience better health outcomes at lower costs:

In an effort to quantify levels of patient engagement, Judith Hibbard of the University of Oregon has developed a "patient activation measure" -- a validated survey that scores the degree to which someone sees himself or herself as a manager of his or her health and care.

At Fairview Health Services…in an analysis of more than 30,000 patients, they found that those with the lowest activation scores, that is, people with the least skills and confidence to actively engage in their own health care, incurred costs that averaged 8 to 21 percent higher than patients with the highest activation levels, even after adjusting for health status and other factors. And patient activation scores were shown to be significant predictors of health care costs.

With health care organizations are increasingly accountable to quality control and regulatory bodies for engaging patients, we’d suggest that improving activation capabilities with digital products is an obvious way to make consistent and measurable year-over-year progress in patient engagement.

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Posted by Curt Rosenthal on 03/01/18