How to activate your patients

You’ve heard of activated almonds… but what are activated patients? Dr Angel Gonzalez takes a look

On average chronic patients make up 25% of the population of most developed countries and use around 70% of healthcare system budgets. It makes financial sense, therefore, to look at how to better manage this group.

In the UK, most chronic patients spend an average of about five hours a year in contact with NHS services. That leaves about 8,500 hours where they are left to take care of their condition on their own. 

When a patient with low health literacy and little confidence in managing their own healthcare is left to their own devices it can often result in poor outcomes, both health and cost wise.

Conversely, many studies have shown that patients who are “fully engaged” or activated—i.e. have the health literacy and willingness to manage their own health—have better health outcomes at lower costs.

Hibbard, Greene and Overton of the University of Oregon have developed the “patient activation measure”—a validated survey that scores the degree to which patients see themselves as managers of their own health care.

Patients with the lowest activation scores, that is people with the least health literacy and confidence to actively engage in their own healthcare, cost 8 to 21% more than patients with the highest activation levels. Patient activation scores were shown to be significant predictors of healthcare costs.

More recent work collated by KPMG showed that moving a patient from being a passive recipient (the lowest level of health literacy and engagement) to an active participant (fully engaged-highest health literacy) can save a provider up to 20% of costs.

Meanwhile the 2002 report Securing our Future Health: Taking a Long-Term View shows that fully engaged consumers can save the NHS £30 billion a year (25% of the current NHS budget).

It’s understandable why some have called patient engagement the “next blockbuster drug”. In addition to the cost savings: Life expectancy increases, health status improves dramatically, people become confident and demand high quality care.

Also, as an optimal reaction, the health service would respond with high rates of technology uptake, particularly in relation to disease prevention and minor ailments management. Use of resources becomes more efficient.

Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this paradigm shift and supported by technology, could lead the way to full consumer activation by;

  • Encouraging healthy attitudes by focusing on addressing high risk behavior resulting in longer term lifestyle change, through direct support such as coaching, and incentive mechanisms .
  • Supporting self-diagnosis and management of minor ailments through apps and virtual devices, promoted and supervised by pharmacists and pharmacy assistants.
  • Helping patients make decisions and navigate the systems through apps and care navigators to enable them to “go to the right places” for treatment.

Informed Consumers = Better Choices = Improved Outcomes

Dr. Angel Gonzalez is a Senior Associate with XPotential™ and Director of SymptoMapp. A qualified medical practitioner and anaesthetist in his home country, he is the owner of his own medical consulting business in Latin America. Angel’s deep medical knowledge, commitment to improving consumer health literacy and creativity provides unique insight into opportunities to improve healthcare in Australia.

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