Engagement - it means different things to different people at different times. To some in healthcare it’s an elaborate version of patient education. For others it simply means improving the patient experience.
Sometimes in all this muddle, engagement seems like just a lot of guesswork. What we do know is that most patients want to be involved in their healthcare decision-making process, and those who are engaged in their care have better health outcomes.
However, it’s important to understand that there is a science to patient engagement. We simply need to look at the retail industry or the social media industry to understand that there are proven methods to help consumers engage. When applied to healthcare, these methods can improve patient activation and enable them to self-manage their own health.
Defining the terms
To clarify things, here’s a simple definition of patient engagement: increasing the patient’s ability to self-manage their own health by providing education, skills, willingness, and motivation to reach lifestyle goals.
Patient engagement also includes opportunities to improve health management and decision-making skills. At Melon, we do this by giving patients access to coaches and peer communities who advise and support patients on their health journey. The result of these engagement strategies is that patients are then able to make smart decisions and reach their goals with the help of their online community.
How other industries have used consumer involvement
Healthcare isn’t the first industry to implement consumer interaction. For instance, the retail industry has been using it for years, incentivizing users to leave reviews on products and promote the inventory.
As the social media and gaming industries have grown, they’ve also introduced new ways of user involvement. Now social interaction across devices plays a primary role in maintaining strong consumer engagement.
Our research and background in these industries has led us to believe that there is a science to patient engagement. The same principles that keep users engaged in games, work, and play can apply to patient engagement and can improve wellness among users.
Who could benefit the most?
Many people could benefit from being more engaged in their health. But the people who stand to benefit the most are those at risk of chronic disease or those who currently have a non-acute chronic illness.
Typically, patients with chronic illness fall into several different categories in the pyramid of risk. There are the top 5% who need costly medical interventions. Then there are the 15% who need case management from their clinician. Beyond that, there’s the vast majority of chronic illness patients, around 70-80%, whose condition is not yet acute. And lastly, there’s the 1/3 of the US population who are at high risk for developing chronic illnesses due to metabolic disorders.
Not all patients with chronic disease can alter the course of their illness with lifestyle changes, but the majority of them can. Many patients could slow disease progression or even bring it to a standstill with self-management.
The science of engagement matters because people’s lives are at stake. Chronic illness (if not addressed with self-management and prevention) will get worse, causing more pain for patients and higher costs for health institutions.
What we need are proven, verifiable ways to bolster patient engagement in their own health and thereby improve their quality of life.
Practically, this means, for example, helping patients increase their physical activity for weight loss. They also need resources and age and stage personalized programs to help them learn how to set goals and stick to them. They also need to know what types of food their bodies need, and the best ways to replace old habits with new into their daily lives while being able to track their progress over time.
Whole person care
Patient engagement also includes helping patients deal with emotional health issues that may be a barrier to self-managing their health. By developing coping strategies and techniques for stress, anxiety and depression, patients are more likely to stay motivated and encouraged in their progress towards a healthier lifestyle.
Patient engagement is like a large safety net. Solid engagement strategies empower patients to realize any negative changes in their health as well as to see their progress both physically and mentally.
Melon’s patient engagement platform allows users to interact with health coaches and peers providing support and shared learnings on how to manage their chronic condition. Health coaches also help monitor symptoms such as depression or glucose levels, thereby helping patients know when to seek further medical support.
This socially interactive environment is a place where patients find encouragement and practical solutions for their health struggles. If they’re struggling to reach their goals, peers can help them evaluate their strategies for behavior change and help them overcome hurdles. Health coaches can also step in and reevaluate wellness plans to help patients stay motivated.
These engagement strategies must be integrated seamlessly into the care they receive from their primary care physician. While the PCPs don’t need to see what’s happening in a patient’s health on a day-to-day basis, watching trends and seeing where they may be falling off on behavior change can help clinicians find new, personalized ways to help that patient change their behavior.
To truly scale, all of these strategies should be enabled by technology. Patient self-management solutions should not be limited by location or business hours. They should be able to access educational resources and care when and where they need it.
All of these strategies can lead to long term lifestyle changes that can lower unnecessary ED utilization, lower costs, and improve patient health outcomes.
Interested in learning how to implement proven patient engagement methods into your organization? Let’s chat!