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5 Ways Telehealth Increases Patient Activation

By Elena Muller, MPH

For a patient to achieve good health, patient engagement and activation is crucial. This blog explores the difference between patient engagement and activation and discusses how telehealth can help improve patient activation, and ultimately, health outcomes. 


What is Patient Activation?

Patient activation and patient engagement are not one in the same. Patient activation falls under the umbrella of patient engagement. According to Dr. Hibbard, MPH, “patient activation emphasizes patients’ willingness and ability to take independent actions to manage their health and care” while “patient engagement denote[s] a broader concept that includes activation; the interventions designed to increase activation; and patients’ resulting behavior, such as obtaining preventive care or engaging in regular physical exercise.”

The Power of Patient Activation

Patient engagement and patient activation are essential for good health.  An activated patient is more likely to engage in preventative behaviors such as immunizations and annual appointments, adhere to their medications, understand their health, and have the knowledge to understand and navigate the healthcare system.

Patient education from provider

The Patient Activation Measure and How Telehealth Can Help

Many providers use the Patient Activation Measure (PAM), an 100 point scale that determines how engaged a patient is with their own health. The survey includes 22 items that are weighted to comprise the 100-point scale. Dr. Hibbard and her colleagues who developed the survey, also released a shortened, 13 item survey. Many providers collect survey responses online through the patient portal, or when the patient comes to an in-person visit.

The PAM evaluates a patient’s ability to:

  • Self-manage illness or problems
  • Engage in activities that maintain functioning and reduce health declines
  • Be involved in treatment and diagnostic choices
  • Collaborate with providers
  • Select providers and provider organizations based on performance or quality
  • Navigate the healthcare system

This tool helps providers identify the activation level of their patients, and tailor care accordingly. It helps providers “meet patients where they are.” 

Telehealth: The Best Patient Activation Tool

Telehealth helps improve patient activation by providing patients with tools to actively engage in their own health. It offers providers the tools to collaborate with their patients, and forge partnerships, as opposed to offering care at just one point in time.

When telehealth is leveraged correctly, behavior change is the result. Behavior change results in a more engaged patient, which, in turn, leads to improved outcomes, better health, and reduced cost of care. Telehealth involves patients in their own healthcare. 


“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” 
- Ben Franklin


5 Ways Telehealth Increases Patient Activation

Telehealth:

  1. Meets the patient where they are

Every patient is different and requires a unique patient activation strategy. What one patient needs to engage in their care is likely different than their neighbor. Every telehealth care plan can be customized to fit the unique needs of each patient. For example, a patient struggling with medication adherence can leverage medication reminders, while a patient struggling with condition understanding can leverage condition-specific education and symptom surveys.

2. Provides more opportunities for patient-provider collaboration

Virtual visits enable patient-provider communication beyond just one point in time. This is important because the creation of a partnership between the patient and provider is facilitated. Telehealth improves access to healthcare—it is not location dependent. 

3. Helps the patient understand their health holistically

For a patient to achieve good health, a full picture of their condition is essential. For the provider, understanding their patients' health holistically allows them to point to what may be contributing to poor outcomes and intervene or customize the care plan accordingly. A patient that understands their health holistically has more control of their health outcomes because they understand the many factors at play—activity, diet, sleep, symptoms, medication, stress, etc. Telehealth and remote patient monitoring allow the patient to track their condition over time, helping them note and understand important trends. 

4. Offers opportunities for education

Health literacy, a patient’s ability to use, obtain, and process certain health information is one of the key predictors of whether a patient is activated or not. A patient who is health literate is likely motivated to take control of their health, understands the steps to doing so, and has the ability to obtain the resources they need to effectively manage their condition. Telehealth improves health literacy by providing tools for education, including videos, written materials, and teach-back quizzes. Through telehealth tools, the provider can push out condition-specific information to the patient, that the patient can engage with on their own time. The provider can also offer more opportunities for 

5. Improves patient adherence to their care plan

Patient adherence, “the extent to which a person's behaviour- taking medication, following a diet and/or executing lifestyle changes, corresponds with agreed recommendations from a healthcare provider” (WHO), is often quite low. In the United States, 1in 5 medications go unfilled and half of patients do not take their medication as prescribed. Patient adherence, however, goes beyond medication compliance. It relates to lifestyle changes, diet, showing up for doctor’s visits, etc. Telehealth can help facilitate the behavior change needed to achieve patient adherence by providing tools for medication reminders, activity tracking, nutrition education, appointment reminders, and more. 

These benefits are really just the tip of the telehealth value iceberg. Patients across their patient journey can see the benefits of telehealth in different ways, what’s most important is patient-centric care is at the center of care delivery.

The Activated, Discerning Patient

People want to be in the driver’s seat of their own health. They want to understand how to prevent poor outcomes, and how to self-manage their conditions. By offering digital patient activation solutions, providers have the opportunity to help their patients reach their healthcare goals in a more convenient, patient-centric way.

Up Next: Digital Health Literacy and Bridging the Digital Divide

Tags: Patient Engagement, patient satisfaction, virtual visits, Medication Adherence, Patient education

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