The American Institute for Preventive Medicine (AIPM) has designated February as Wise Healthcare Consumer Month to encourage people to make smart choices regarding their health and open a dialogue with their doctors.
According to AIPM, a wise healthcare consumer knows how to:
- Choose a healthcare plan;
- Pick their care providers carefully and thoughtfully;
- Communicate with their healthcare providers;
- Ask questions, share concerns and negotiate costs;
- Analyze and evaluate sources of health information;
- Practice preventive care;
- Know when to treat themselves at home;
- Understand their prescriptions and take them as directed.
The numbers back up those statements.
Physicians Practice magazine, reporting on the findings of a Gallup research and IMI Healthcare for the AARP study, said wise patients/consumers are:
- 19.2 percent less likely to experience a medical error;
- 12.8 percent less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge;
- 12.6 percent less likely to have poor coordination among providers;
- 5.1 percent less likely to lose confidence in the healthcare system.
Would if all our patients were so wise — and many can be if, as providers, we find ways to encourage them to play a more engaged and empowered role in their care.
With that in mind, here is a six-step plan you can follow to make your patients wiser regarding their healthcare choices:
1. Focus on Prevention and Wellness
We all know the adage “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”
However, the sad truth is that even though Americans spend more than any other country on medicine and treatment, we rank an astonishing 42nd in life expectancy, according to CIA statistics. One reason is Americans' hesitancy—and sometimes refusal—to take responsibility for their health or modify behavior to prevent disease.
For patient empowerment and engagement to be successful, that has to change.
Such change begins by doctors shifting their mindset from one of disease-and-treatment to prevention-and-wellness. Value-based medicine, which rewards doctors for keeping patients out of the hospital, makes such an effort a worthwhile mandate.
Partnership with businesses is another way to promote a healthy prevention and wellness-oriented lifestyle. Employee wellness programs can reduce employee-related healthcare expenditures and motivate workers to adopt healthy habits.
At the community level, doctors and hospitals can focus on improving population health by assessing their community's social determinants of health — the social, economic, and environmental factors that help determine quality and length of life — and develop initiatives to address those.
A helpful resource is the CDC's Healthy People 2020 campaign, which has the stated goal to "create social and physical environments that promote good health for all" and provides a framework for implementation.
2. Seek to Build Trust
A trusting relationship between doctor and patient is necessary if we expect patients to heed our advice regarding proactive self-care. Yet, confidence in the healthcare system is dwindling.
In 1975, 73 percent of Americans said they had high confidence in medical leadership, but only 34 percent felt the same way in 2018. Even doctors realize trust is failing. A 2017 SERMO survey found that 87 percent of U.S. physicians said patients trust their doctors less than they did ten years ago.
Building (or rebuilding) trust begins with an open dialogue that allows patients to talk through their concerns and be taken seriously. Patients who feel doctors listen to their concerns are more receptive to counsel than those who don't.
(And in an environment where the choice of another provider or hospital is one mouse click away, we better pay attention to the voice of the patient-consumer or else face losing their loyalty.)
As trust grows, the doctor and patient can then partner to achieve goals that foster a better quality of life.
3. Invest in Technology to Keep Patients Engaged
A wide variety of healthcare-related technologies are available today to boost patient engagement and self-care. These include patient portals, secure messaging, wearables, mobile health apps, and telehealth platforms.
Patient portals are useful for accessing medical and lab results, requesting drug refills, viewing digital medical records, and scheduling appointments. Secure direct messages can allow patients to contact their doctors and get an answer without the need to visit the office.
Due to their consumer-friendliness and host of other uses, wearables (Apple Watch, Fitbit, Garmin, etc.) can help patients keep a closer eye on basic stats like resting heart rate, exercise minutes/week, hours of restful sleep, and more.
Of course, these days, when you think of technology, mobile apps are probably the first thing that comes to mind. An SCP Health blog post lists six mobile apps that providers can use to communicate with patients to stimulate engagement.
One such app, VisualDX, contains thousands of images that you can use to help a patient better understand his condition. Another, Canopy Speak, is a translation app that includes an extensive library of medical phrases in various languages to overcome any language barrier.
Lastly, telehealth keeps patients engaged after they leave the hospital in the place where they are most comfortable — their home.
Telehealth technologies can close the communication loop between doctor and patient, capture real-time data readings, and empower patients to partner with the provider and hospital in their care. It is also a cost-effective alternative to in-person visits that, in many cases, close the gap in care needs.
4. Take Time to Educate Patients
Knowledgeable patients can avoid expensive, time-and resource-consuming doctor and hospital visits, which is why it’s important for physicians to spend more time on education. One simple example can be giving patients a general structure for their office visits.
The Washington Post notes that patient-provider communication can be improved if the patient brings a thoughtful list of top concerns to discuss to help direct the conversation. Encouraging patients to prepare pushes them to evaluate their health more proactively and be more aware of any changes—and it makes the most of the limited time that you have during each visit.
The doctor's office isn't the only place education can occur, either.
"Health education programs are most effective when aimed at reaching people outside of the traditional health care setting, like schools, centers of faith, worksites or local community businesses such as barbershops or salons," said the American College of Cardiology magazine.
5. Get Your Data in Order
Beyond the time they spend with doctors and nurses, patients with chronic disease spend 5,000 hours a year on other activities that directly affect their health, says HealthCatalyst, a data warehouse and analytics provider for hospitals and health systems.
For HealthCatalyst, empowering patients means giving them data so they can more effectively use, or reduce, those hours. With that data comes several proposed benefits. It promotes patient engagement, produces patient-centered outcomes, helps patients practice self-care, improves doctor-patient communication, and leads to faster healing and independence for patients.
"Clinicians must empower patients with data and tools that give them appropriate decision-making power and control over their own care,” HealthCatalyst asserts. "Shifting the balance of care from clinicians and hospitals to patients and the community can improve the patient experience, reduce costs, and improve processes to make healthcare more efficient."
6. Be Upfront About Costs
Being a wise healthcare consumer includes being a prudent purchaser of healthcare services.
A patient survey found that 49 percent of those surveyed said having clear information on expected out-of-pocket costs before receiving treatment impacts their decision to use a healthcare provider. That means, even if you are unable to be completely candid about costs of care, give patients an estimate of what to expect.
That may soon be a moot point, however, considering that healthcare price transparency has now come under the auspices of the federal government.
Hospitals will soon have to share price information under a rule by the Trump administration, reports Kaiser Health News. A companion proposal will require health insurers to declare how much patients may owe in out-of-pocket costs for medical services beforehand.
The rule won't go into effect until January 2021 and is likely to face court challenges. Still, given the fact an estimated 30 percent of hospital revenue comes directly from patients, it's in your best interest to be as upfront regarding costs as possible.
Patient engagement in healthcare has been considered as a “blockbuster drug of the century” that offers the potential to achieve the “triple aim” of improved health outcomes, better patient care, and lower costs.
Patients who are actively involved in making wise healthcare decisions take better care of themselves, receive more preventative care, and have improved outcomes.
While you, as a provider, can only do so much — patients are the ones primarily responsible for their care after all — following the steps outlined in this post can help you promote patient engagement that leads to healthy lifestyles.
At SCP Health, we are committed to achieving a higher level of care and making a positive difference for patients across the entire continuum. If you’re a physician, NP, or PA—we’d love to have you be a part of that journey. Browse and apply to our current job openings.
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