It is a universal tenet for organizations that the ‘Customer is King’.
Globally, industries spend millions trying to listen to the ‘voice of the customer’, and understand their needs. They then spend millions more in analyzing the information they have collected, understanding what the customer needs and then tailoring a product or service that will perfectly mirror that need.
An exception is the healthcare industry, where the primary mover is not the consumer, but the provider. This is despite major studies and research establishing that patient engagement is the key to better and more effective healthcare.
This is a relatively new term. Patient engagement happens when healthcare practitioners and administrators cooperate with patients to improve and maintain the latter’s health. Engaging patients means that they will be more empowered, and will have greater control on their health as well as the benefits they can derive from healthcare.
This empowerment is essential if one is to achieve better results with healthcare initiatives, and make the system more effective. Further, with the advances in technology and considering how much more ‘connected’ the world is today, engaging the patient should be easy.
Innovation in engagement
The good news is that the industry is moving inexorably in the right direction. 72% of Internet users say that they looked online for health information within the past one year. For example, Christiana Care, one of the largest healthcare providers in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, uses Interactive Patient Care (IPC). The hospital has set up IPC to educate their patients about their condition, at their bedside, and to equip them with the information and the knowledge necessary to better manage it.
Hospitals can use IPC to provide vital health-related information to patients. This could include educational videos, materials, documentaries, documents, and in fact anything that the healthcare provider chooses to share. The information covered could include information on medication, pain management, diet control, lifestyle planning and changes, etc.
Somewhere along the same lines is an initiative by the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality. It created a patient-friendly website called the Wisconsin Health Reports, designed to help patients learn about their conditions, compare providers, and take the most apt action to improve their health.
Taking engagement to the next level
Patient engagement is not always just about information sharing. It is also about initiatives designed to motivate patients towards a better lifestyle. UnitedHealthCare, a diversified managed healthcare company headquartered in Minnetonka, Minnesota, US, rolled out a ‘Rewards for Health’ program aimed at its employees. Employees who enrolled could earn points. These points made them eligible for insurance premium reductions if they had health screenings, or met targets such as body mass index (BMI) reductions.
The results were astonishing. 82 percent of the employees earned points in the first 24 months. More important perhaps, was that over 7,200 employees at high risk for diabetes got the opportunity to manage or prevent the onset of the disease! What’s more, 44 percent of the overweight employees improved over the following year, losing an average of 4.5 percent of their weight.
The Massachusetts Health Quality Partners launched a campaign to tell patients what they should expect when they visit a physician. Called the ‘Expect the Best’ campaign, it gives patients clear instructions about what to do to take care of their problem and what to do if their symptoms come back. It also clearly tells patients about what they should expect from their care giver and what their own responsibilities towards the caregiver are.
Engagement means more care in healthcare
Clearly, steps have been taken towards a more engaged and active patient in the healthcare industry. However, while gaps do exist in this area, it is up to the individuals, hospitals and local communities to lead the way with new practices and initiatives.
Learn more about George Vijay, our Healthcare Informatics Evangelist.
Image Credit: YacineBaroudi on Flickr