Increasing the functionality and accessibility of personalised health tech tools has the potential to transform healthcare and enhance patient empowerment
Self-care is better care
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), patient empowerment is “a process through which people gain greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health.”. Whilst this can be seen as just a trending ‘buzz word’, the intention behind it has the potential to greatly improve each and every person’s overall health and wellbeing.
Helping people learn how to take care of themselves needs to be at the top of NHS priorities, whether that is safely self-treating common symptoms, managing long term conditions or learning when it is necessary to seek help. This is an even greater need in a post pandemic world where health anxiety is at an all-time high. Giving patients easy access to reliable and consistent advice is also essential to build up confidence and empower them to have more responsibility over their own health.
Digital services can supply the platforms needed to achieve these objectives, and as a result outcomes and satisfaction levels are dramatically improved across the board. Improved communications through patient engagement strategies can also build trust between the patient and their healthcare organisation, which in turn makes them more likely to be open to new services such as patient portals or digital platforms that have endless efficiency benefits for NHS Trusts.
Digital can assist patients to be active participants
OpenNotes is an international movement developed over the past 10 years to analyse, educate and advocate for transparency in healthcare communications. In one of their recent studies, they found that patients with immediate access to their provider’s appointment notes were 60% more likely to adhere to medications, highlighting the importance of access when it comes to patient empowerment.
Information is key, and in an increasingly data-driven world, patients are beginning to take more and more of an interest in their health data, with wearables such as Fitbits and Apple Watches tracking their own statistics such as blood pressure, heart rate, fitness and sleeping patterns. Healthcare Communications’ Patient Engagement Portal takes that one step further, enabling people to access a record of their medical correspondence in their own personal health hub.
Patients can also use the portal to view their test results, appointment details, outcome letters, and all other information regarding their journey at any time. It also comes with an accessibility toolbar to further promote inclusivity, allowing digital text to be translated into 99 languages, or read aloud in 46, as well as enlarge, highlight, or simplify options. Putting this power in a patient’s hands gives them control over what they do with their information and helps encourage self-reliance.
Chatbots have also become incredibly popular during the pandemic as they can be rapidly rolled out to take on some of the workload from admin teams, whilst providing around the clock advice to citizens in need of support. There are a variety of reasons why people are eager for the adoption of virtual assistants, and why they support patient empowerment. One example is appointment rescheduling bots, which embolden patients to manage their own care from anywhere with the ability to rebook for a time that suits them, without needing to wait in lengthy phone queues. In return, missed appointments are significantly reduced and staff are freed of repetitive admin work, including manually rebooking slots.
Flipping follow up management
Patient Initiated Follow Ups (PIFU) is another strategy which puts more decision-making in the patient’s hands, by putting them on a pathway where they can arrange follow-ups as and when they need one, usually when they experience a flare up or a change in their circumstances, rather than having unwanted routine appointments booked in advance. This encourages them to have more control over their care whilst freeing up capacity for the organisation, and long term there are countless advantages to this approach based around empowering the patient as an active member in their healthcare journey. Technology can also boost shared decision-making (SDM) collaboration between patients and their clinicians when choosing treatment plans, and support conversations about setting their personal goals.
As we’ve discussed, technology has the ability to reach out with self-care support and improve the patient experience. It also has endless benefits for organisations, such as cost savings on communications and unnecessary appointments, as well as reduced pressure on a struggling health service and its overworked staff. Check out our 8 Steps to Patient Empowerment for a checklist which can be easily implemented to give patients a much more active role in their care.
What are the challenges?
As with anything, there are some challenges to overcome when strategising to empower patients. For starters, some people simply don’t want to take responsibility of their care, usually due to a lack of confidence, and prefer to totally rely on their healthcare organisation to direct their treatment. This unfortunately creates more of a burden on the system as many health problems that arise could be avoided if the patient would have taken more ownership of their health in the first place.
Traditional reactive mindsets around healthcare are also a barrier to patient empowerment, because for it to be truly successful, preventative approaches are paramount. Rather than clinical decisions being based solely on the issue being presented by a patient, more thought needs to go into potential problems that may occur in the future.
According to the NHS, health literacy describes the personal characteristics and social resources needed for individuals and communities to access, understand, appraise and use information and services to make decisions about health. This goes hand in hand with empowering patients, as providing information and access is still not enough if the person does not understand it. The National Health Literacy Toolkit (a resource for health and care organisations) was created by NHS England, Public Health England, Health Education England and the Community Health and Learning Foundation to tackle this issue after a study demonstrated that 43% of adults aged 16-65 struggle to understand textual health information materials among many other concerning statistics.
The Good Things Foundation recently reported that over 9 million people in the UK cannot use the internet without help, and 7 million people have no internet access at home, which shows that digital literacy is also a huge issue in this country. The research into this digital divide also highlights the link between poor health, shorter life expectancy and living in a deprived area. Therefore, any developments in healthcare services, including those intended to empower and educate patients to take care of their own health, must cater to all digital capabilities.
Empowerment leads to activation
Patient activation is one of the final steps of the patient empowerment process, whereby a patient understands their condition and their ability to manage it with their own actions as well as their hospital treatment. They are a partner in their healthcare decisions, and understand their role within in. To get to this point, patients need to be put at the heart of health services using the checklist we’ve included above, and much more. These actions can enable people to gain as much benefit from your organisation in order to educate themselves and use innovative tools to implement their decisions.
Empowered patients are healthy patients and including self-care messaging in as many of your communications as possible is the simplest way to start your organisations transformative journey towards helping them get there with personalised healthcare. Meaningful engagement with patients leads to them effectively contributing to their own care, and by helping them to navigate complicated medical issues your patient’s satisfaction levels will rise as well as outcome measures. We believe in a future where patients are empowered and activated in their healthcare journey through the use of digital services, whilst still offering personalised, multi-channel platforms that never leave a patient behind.
Healthcare Communications has developed the tools needed to accelerate patient empowerment through engagement solutions such as video consultations, appointment management platforms, patient self-scheduling, PIFU, personal portals, patient experience surveys, and virtual assistants/chatbots. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.