How Patient Activation Drives Better Health Outcomes

December 8, 2022 | Carenet Health

The goal of patient engagement is patient activation, which occurs when patients are empowered to play a proactive role in their individual healthcare journey. Some of the key characteristics of patient activation include an individual's willingness to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to manage their own health, working alongside their providers to not only treat illnesses, but also use preventative care to maintain health and wellness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a growing body of evidence shows that people with higher patient activation have better health outcomes. In addition to improving patient outcomes, health systems that prioritize patient activation can be more competitive, boost patient retention, and increase revenue. Today's healthcare climate includes increasing competition from nontraditional venues of care and revenue losses in the billions for many hospitals and health systems. Now, more than ever before, traditional players in healthcare need to focus on moving beyond patient engagement to patient activation.

Understand the Channel of Activation

To improve outcomes, health systems must identify which channel is most likely to prompt a patient to take action such as scheduling routine medical exams, re-scheduling missed appointments, and adhering to treatment regimens after receiving care. It’s also important to note that using a patient’s channel of choice isn’t necessarily the best strategy for getting them to take action.

Stericycle’s recently published 2022 U.S. Consumer Trends in Patient Engagement Survey found that, although data from previous years showed that email was consumers’ top communication channel preference, the telephone is not dead. In fact, when asked what prompted them to reschedule a missed appointment, the phone was the hands-down winner as 62% of respondents in 2022 indicated that a phone call was more likely to make them take action versus an email or text message.   

Despite the convenience of online booking, nearly 90% of the survey's 1,004 respondents schedule appointments by phone at least some of the time. The convenience of telehealth notwithstanding, 44% of surveyed healthcare consumers prefer in-person visits with all providers. Health systems that prioritize the patient experience by offering the human connection of live voice services for booking appointments and follow-up inquiries are more likely to drive activation and foster patient adherence to treatment plans and compliance with medication regimens.

Increase Competition with Non-traditional Healthcare

Another factor in recent years that is changing patient engagement and activation is the increasingly convenient treatment options that patients have access to. Given the prevalence of non-traditional venues of care, also referred to as “opportunistic healthcare,” traditional healthcare players that can better compete with the convenience that retail care venues offer will position themselves to increase activation among the patients they serve. 

One advantage that traditional health systems hold is the broader range of services they offer compared to nontraditional care venues. Activated patients who are proactively managing their own healthcare are not going to seek diagnostic testing like a mammogram, X-ray, or CT scan at a retail health venue.

By capitalizing on this competitive advantage versus squandering it, traditional players can not only increase patient activation, but they will position themselves to be more appealing to patients. To address the challenge presented by retail care venues, traditional players should consider offering expanded hours of service and additional locations for treatment to make it more convenient for patients to receive care.

Address Delayed Care and Reestablish a Connection with Patients 

Given the negative impact that the pandemic has had on patients who delayed seeking healthcare, health systems that focus on reestablishing the connection between individuals and doctors will foster patient activation and healthier outcomes.  Getting patients back into the routine of managing their own care increases the likelihood of diagnosing illness at an early stage, which, in the case of serious diseases like cancer, is a critical factor in improving health outcomes. This also carries the benefit of improving results related to value-based care models.  

Additionally, our recent survey found that traditional players in healthcare can promote activation and improve patient trust by reducing barriers to care and creating more transparency related to medical costs, which one-third of respondents indicated is a factor in delaying care. Other common reasons for delaying care by those surveyed included a lack of available appointments or a lack of technology to make the appointment.  These findings highlight issues that health systems need to address in order to increase patient activation in the future.

By making it easier for patients to understand the ways in which they can manage their own health and giving them more options for convenient access to care, health systems can improve and redefine the patient journey at this critical moment in healthcare.

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