As patient engagement emerges as a major influence on the global healthcare industry, education increasingly drives the development of new and emerging technology – but why is this the case?
Healthcare and technology have always shared a symbiotic relationship. Tech has always been at the forefront of new discoveries in the sphere of healthy living, while the quest to discover better standards of health is often the driving force behind new research.
Patient Engagement and Education
Ultimately, patient engagement can be boiled down to a very simple principle – when someone is active in managing their wellbeing, they tend to be healthier. Although this can be a result of many different factors, from a patient getting more exercise to giving up smoking, an overwhelming element in patient engagement is education.
In the UK, there are many widespread public health issues that healthcare professionals believe could be avoided through better education – including obesity, mental health problems, diabetes, and many forms of cancer.
It’s hard to argue that patients wouldn’t be less susceptible to these illnesses and ailments if they were armed with a better understanding of:
- Likely causes
- Common symptoms
- Treatment options
- Risk factors
- Preventative activities
While a certain level of health education does already exist, it’s mostly crammed into 10-minute GP appointments, hardly-remembered science classes across years of schooling or poorly designed leaflets stacked in surgery waiting rooms. Clearly this isn’t comprehensive enough to properly protect patients and reduce the strain that these preventable healthcare issues place on the healthcare system.
In hindsight, it seems ridiculous that we ever believed this type of “passive” education would encourage patients to engage with their healthcare and manage their wellbeing better. After all, we fastidiously revise for tests, spend dozens of hours learning to drive and train healthcare professionals for close to a decade – expecting patients to absorb medical information from an appointment or brochure is just unrealistic.
A recent TeleVox and Kelton Research study of providers and patients in the US seems to back up this opinion that a more active education is required to increase a patient's engagement with their care. The study revealed that:
- 83% of US patients don’t follow treatment plans given by their doctors exactly as prescribed
- 42% of US patients feel they would be more likely to follow their prescribed treatment plans if they received encouragement and coaching from their doctors between visits
Rather than simply overloading patients with information and expecting them to follow it to the tee, more “active” and regular communication is more likely to both educate patients and encourage them to participate in their care.
This sentiment is repeated in the CDW Healthcare Patient Engagement Perspectives report that showed patients ranked having more communication with their provider as equally influential in motivating their engagement with their healthcare as a major life event, like a heart attack or stroke.
Clearly there is a disconnect there between what patients need to feel educated and capable of engaging with their own wellbeing and what healthcare providers are delivering.
Improving Patient Education and Technology
While it's obvious patients are demanding better healthcare education, it’s important to note they don't simply want more information. As shown above, there's a need for more consistent and frequent interaction with healthcare providers.
This doesn’t necessarily mean more face-to-face appointments though, with 74% of patients suggesting that greater access to healthcare information would help them take a more active role in their wellbeing. While the majority of providers (60%) believe improved access to healthcare information would increase the quality of care that patients receive.
Unsurprisingly, both parties also agree that when it comes to the future of healthcare engagement the development of better tools for patient education should be a priority, with access to online patient portals the prefered technology.
A secure portal is a great tool for empowering patients to make better decisions about their health by allowing them to access their medical history and treatment plans whenever they need. There is also an opportunity to build your portal into a hub for health information your patients can trust, with it becoming more difficult to identify reputable sources online.
The ubiquity of smart devices, as well as the litany of health and wellbeing apps that have followed, has proved beneficial for patient engagement. From tools that record dietary information and activity behaviours to those that track blood sugar levels and provide mental health support, it's easier than ever for patients to make educated decisions about their health.
As well as providing information, advice and interactive tools, many apps also record user health data to provide an even deeper and more personal level of insight into a patient's health. Making this data available to GPs by securely connecting apps to your portal enables them to monitor treatment outcomes, diagnose any issues and provide support based on up-to-the-minute data.
The majority of patients and providers have noticed increases in patient engagement, with 64% of providers crediting the improvement to the rapid advance of patient engagement technology. The driving force behind these new technologies is almost exclusively educating patients and empowering them to make better decisions about their health.
A patient who has recently been diagnosed with high-blood pressure likely requires more information than can be provided in a 10-minute appointment and more convenient engagement with healthcare professionals.
Modern patient engagement technology can provide the education needed by that patient to manage his condition, whether that’s information about symptoms and further risks to advice on dietary changes and exercises that can help bring down blood pressure.
Many smart devices and wearables are now able to capture health data directly from the patient to provide more personalised advice. This information can even be integrated with online portals, allowing healthcare professionals to give feedback and coaching on the patient’s treatment – as well as answer any queries they have.
Using these tools to better educate patients and ensure healthier decision-making is patient engagement in a nutshell. By making patients more active in their health, health outcomes are improved, and costs are reduced for patients, providers and the systems supporting them.
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