Healthcare Innovation

Want to Truly Engage Patients? Empower Them

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Patient engagement is one of the biggest buzzwords in healthcare. Most healthcare providers and health insurers see it as the solution to rising healthcare costs, declining patient health, and decreased patient satisfaction. Everyone from healthcare providers to payers (or health insurers) see the lack of patient engagement as the problem. That’s because preventable conditions—those that patients can treat on their own and have the greatest power to influence—are the most pervasive and costly in healthcare today. For instance, nearly 30 million Americans suffer from Type 2 diabetes, a preventable chronic condition. People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes accounted for $176 billion in healthcare expenditures in 2012. As the government calls for stricter regulations to curb costs and improve health, healthcare providers and insurers see the solution as getting people more engaged in their healthcare. But patient engagement often requires people to become compliant with the demands of healthcare providers and insurers—such visiting the doctor’s office, taking medications, undergoing procedures, etc. Is engagement really the answer?

In his latest book, On Our Terms: The New Intelligent Connected Health Consumer, Glen Tullman argues no. As it stands, we are asking patients to become more engaged in a system that invariably makes it harder–not easier–to stay healthy. Read an excerpt here.

The healthcare system is designed to treat acute conditions: a broken arm, a sinus infection, a condition with a cure. As Tullman points out, the healthcare system does not work well for treating chronic conditions. Chronic conditions require ongoing attention intermittently every day, whether at night or on a weekend. It requires the time and capacity that the healthcare system simply cannot–and more importantly, should not–provide. Healthcare providers, even if they could become available for healthcare consumers, still do not represent the most effective and least expensive solution to improving preventable conditions. The people affected by them do.

Instead, Tullman calls for a new movement, one driven by consumer empowerment. Empowerment, not engagement, is what ultimately reduces costs, improves health, and increases satisfaction. Consumer empowerment calls for putting the people most affected by their condition in charge of managing it on their terms, not on healthcare providers, payers, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and pharma. Contrary to what healthcare providers may say, consumers can manage most of their healthcare with access to good information and tools. Once patients see their choices making a positive impact on their own health, they begin to feel more confident in their decision-making. They are more motivated, and they experience a sense of accomplishment related to their own well-being. This is a direct result of gaining knowledge about their condition, and learning simple, everyday ways that they can take control of their own health.

It’s a new way of thinking, but patient empowerment is a better long-term solution than “engagement” in a fundamentally broken system that cannot address their needs.

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