patient activationEven in the rapidy-evolving healthcare industry, patient activation is a relatively new concept, but why does it matter and how can it help your hospital?  It simple terms, it’s a measure that describes the role that patient education has on improving health outcomes.  A way to measure a person’s level of activation, called the Patient Activation Measure (PAM), began at the University of Oregon as the result of a study by professor Judith Hibbard.  In describing this new concept, she stated:

“We found that patients who were more knowledgeable, skilled and confident about managing their day-to-day health and health care — also called patient activation — had health care costs that were substantially lower than patients who lacked this type of confidence and skill.”

The wealth of knowledge available to anyone these days is incredible, but it’s where content is accessed that matters. So how can you encourage patients to rely on information from a trusted source? Here are 3 keys to keep in mind:

 3 Keys to Activating Patients

Promoting patient activation and education is an ongoing challenge as technology and patient expectations change. Some, like New York City Health + Hospitals, have made a push recently to make Electronic Health Records accessible to thousands of patients in their care network. While adoption is growing, Pamela Saechow, in charge of the project at NYC H+H,  stated in a recent interview that “People don’t object to it, but they haven’t all bought into it either”. The challenge is that many patients don’t have the MyChart app on their smartphone yet, or any tool you may have provided. Is there a good reason for this? Are you providing enough value to make adoption of technology worthwhile?

Providing real value is a fundamental way to get more patients on board, but it takes time. Health monitors have been around for decades, but it wasn’t until the release of devices like the Apple Watch that made health monitoring a mainstream thing to do. 5 years ago, no one had the Delta Airlines app on their phone either, yet reports indicate that nearly 40 percent of their desktop users have switched to using the app.

So how can you get patients to “buy in” to new technology or systems that could actually help them make more informed health decisions? One service line may require a completely different solution than the next, so tailoring a solution specifically to patient groups is key for adoption. Having departments express their concerns is a strategy we encourage, and having a feedback loop is a great idea to make sure you deliver what end-users are asking for.

1.  Build a team; make them part of the creative process

Aligning team members with different perspectives and ideas is a great first step. As innovation centers pop up in hospitals, we’re seeing many assemble a “Mobile Center of Excellence“, drawing on knowledge from multiple departments and service lines. Maternity care centers (for example), serve a completely different demographic than oncology, and may require a slightly different user experience.

As new technology emerges, we are seeing the”one-size fits all” tech strategy replaced by a more niche-focused one.  Wayfinding is often times used to help new patients, but it may become less relevant in other applications intended for existing patients.  Determining what to include or exclude can be a long process, so establishing a committee of decision makers can help.

2.  Act fast in response to patient feedback

Regardless of what technology you may be considering, a poor user experience can outweigh any potential benefits of the solution.  Take mobile, for example.  According to a report by ImpactBND, fifty-two percent of all patients said a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with their brand. Being able to quickly address changes is key to continued adoption, whether it be feedback from your mobile app, EHR platform, or other solution.

3.  Make technology a “must have” rather than “nice to have”

Staying true to the mobile example, I’d argue most apps are created as “nice to have” for many health systems. An Accenture study found that only 2% of hospital apps were being actively used by patients. It’s nice to have an informational type app, but is it really worth the extra space on your smartphone?

A few features we are seeing emerge include: medication reminders,  pre and post-op instructions, and even apps with telemedicine capabilities. In the future, it will be interesting to see how consumer expectations will affect healthcare like it has other industries.

The bottom line

It’s no longer enough to simply implement technology and assume patients will embrace it as a tool for behavior change. This might mean creating a better mobile app, or reviewing whether or not patients find your new check-in software as easy to use as you thought.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s important to stick with it and re-align your tech strategy with what patients really want. Improving outcomes is a goal we take seriously in every app our clients release, and look forward to seeing providers continually push the envelope with the resources they have available.

For more tips on creating a patient-centered strategy, download our latest eBook: How to Reduce Preventable Readmissions with Healthcare IT.