Patient engagement and consumer empowerment are necessary elements in a healthcare market that seeks to produce better outcomes. But many hospital systems and healthcare organizations struggle to find effective ways of engaging and empowering their consumer bases. In fact, engagement is not enough – if it doesn’t lead to positive behavior change or reinforcement, it isn’t successful.
Activating patients isn’t easy — it never has been. What works for this consumer doesn’t work for that one, even if, on the exterior, both consumers appear very similar based on demographics or diagnoses. Luckily, health data analytics tools are giving hospitals and provider organizations the ability to glean and store greater insights into healthcare consumers, allowing them to individually tailor their engagement efforts and more effectively empower consumers to assist in the day-to-day management of their care.
How can providers empower consumers to make good healthcare choices? Here are 4 ways:
1. Help consumers to become more healthcare literate.
There’s a plethora of applications, websites, blogs, wikis, etc. that exist to help consumers become better informed about their own health. Unfortunately, a lot of the learnings those resources provide aren’t effectively (or correctly) applied.
Although the Internet and the development of mHealth have made more health information readily available to consumers than ever before, as Koh and Rudd noted in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “The paradox is that people are awash in information they may be unable to use.”
Why? Because the average consumer just isn’t very health literate.
Providers and hospitals have a vested interest in helping consumers become better equipped to learn how to self-manage their care, how to know when to seek help, and how to provide doctors with the critical information they need to sort things out.
An innovative platform for improving health literacy is EdLogics. EdLogics incentivizes health literacy by making health education fun, gamifying the experience with quizzes, contests and the opportunity to win prizes. Eighty-eight percent of healthcare consumers who engage the EdLogics platform complete the modules focusing on relevant health conditions or topics.
2. Help patients to retain what they learn in the doctor’s office, in the clinic, or on the ward.
Patients and caregivers forget the majority of information they learn from their doctors, according to research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. It’s estimated that the average patient only retains about 20 percent of what he or she hears from the doctor. And retention is (naturally) even worse among patients who are older, sicker and or anxious — generally, the patients who most need to remember what their doctors tell them.
So how can healthcare professionals and hospital systems help their most vulnerable consumers to remember their post-discharge instructions, the reasons they are prescribed various medications, chronic disease management techniques and general wellness tips? Maybe this is an area in which mHealth could help.
Easy-to-use, easy-to-understand mobile apps that would help patients and their caregivers to actively manage their care through push notifications could be uniquely suited toward helping consumers become better patients.
Healthcare-oriented social applications or electronic reference guides put the onus the consumer to initiate use. But imagine the value of an application that would remind patients or their caregivers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and why.
Over time, such an application could help consumers learn by rote memorization how to manage their care — they could help consumers develop routines and thus, over time, help them to become more health literate.
And, because the information the application would push out would come straight from the provider or hospital system, patient-consumers would be less likely to rely on questionable or difficult-to-comprehend health information they might find online in their own searches.
In addition to mobile apps, innovations like PatientBond allow hospitals and other healthcare organizations to engage patients on a going basis. PatientBond is a platform for automating communications (i.e., emails, texts, Interactive Voice Response), which includes mechanisms for patient response, such as surveys, links to educational videos and webpages, or connecting with a clinician when needed. PatientBond customizes messaging and channel according to the patient’s psychographic segment to tap into motivations and behavior triggers. PatientBond has achieved much success improving hospital readmission rates, missed appointments and collections gathering.
3. Help consumers to conceive and frame questions.
We know that asking yes-or-no questions begets yes-or-no responses. People are often embarrassed or reluctant to admit they don’t know an answer, or that they don’t understand something, so they’ll give the doctor a cursory yes or no answer in the office and avoid embarrassment.
If providers became more adept at asking consumers open-ended questions, they might be able to more quickly identify and address gaps in consumers’ understandings of diagnoses, treatments, etc. Asking, “Do you have any questions for me?” is more closed-ended than asking “What are your questions?”
As time spent with each patient dwindles — a primary care physician may only see a patient for, on average, 8-15 minutes due to productivity goals and patient demand outstripping physician supply — open-ended questions may be impractical. Physicians fear that open-ended questions could spin off into discussions that back-up their case load.
However, not all patients need to be offered open-ended questions. Certain psychographic segments, such as Balance Seekers, prefer open-ended questions, but they represent only 18% of the population. Direction Takers and Priority Jugglers, on the other hand, want physicians to cut to the chase and be more directive. Understanding the psychographic profile of patients can help one anticipate where open-ended questions can be judiciously and effectively used.
While such a change may take some culture shifting within an organization at first, with continued reinforcement, it could easily become the norm.
And when healthcare consumers say they have no questions, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to train providers to test their patients’ retention and comprehension by asking consumers to explain diagnoses or treatment instructions back in their own words.
It’s important, though, for healthcare organizations and providers to first develop a trust relationship with individual consumers, so that they feel empowered and confident enough to speak up in the office. And to develop that relationship, it’s helpful for the provider to have insight into how that consumer prefers to communicate and be communicated with.
4. Design solutions with the healthcare consumer in mind.
One 2015 pilot study of healthcare consumer groups identified 5 basic requirements for any tech-based, consumer-facing healthcare solution. A good application should:
- Give consumers more control over management of their health.
- Be simple to navigate.
- Be easily, readily and regularly accessible.
- Allow networking with other healthcare consumers like them.
- Provide reliable, accurate, actionable information.
But sometimes healthcare organizations and IT startups get caught up in the information they want to present, or in the technological capabilities of a given platform. They end up designing a very nice, robust mHealth or eHealth system that, in the field, the majority of their consumers lack the ability or wherewithal to meaningfully use.
Why? Developers can be very product-centric versus consumer-centric, enamored with the innovative functionality of their offering. It also goes back to the literacy paradox.
Just as some consumers aren’t very healthcare literate, some aren’t very tech literate (especially older consumers). Some aren’t tech or healthcare literate — so a web portal or mHealth app might hold little value for them. Then there are those consumers who have access problems. Older and lower-income consumers often have barriers to web or mobile access that prevent them from benefitting from even the best-designed programs, and hospitals and healthcare organizations would benefit from having deep insight into their healthcare consumer populations before they undertake to design new patient empowerment solutions.
What are the average healthcare and tech literacy rates among your hospital’s consumer segments? What are their barriers to tech access? Do the majority of your consumers even want technology-based engagement efforts, or do they skew toward desiring communications through more traditional channels like direct mail, phone calls and provider-patient facetime?
Health data and psychographic analysis could help you to find out the answers to those questions. And once you have those answers, you can apply them to design better patient engagement and consumer empowerment solutions.
Hospitals need to understand their patient-consumer bases before they try to influence them.
The more consumer-driven the healthcare market becomes, the more pressure hospitals and provider organizations will feel to develop person-centered methods of addressing care management.
“Person-centered” care management requires understanding an individual consumer’s literacies, proficiencies and preferences, then applying those insights to devise a customized treatment plan and helpful engagement solutions. Investments in health data and psychographic analytics are thus meaningful steps toward developing healthcare solutions consumers can use.
The best solutions will address consumers at their individual levels of health literacy, improve patients’ ability to retain and apply what they learn from their doctors, facilitate both consumer-to-provider questions and patient-to-patient networking, and be easy to navigate.
Undoubtedly, solutions that can do those key things will empower consumers to take more charge of their own health and wellness. And an empowered, healthier patient-consumer base will ultimately be the best means to market your hospital system or provider organization.