Patient empowerment. It’s been top-of-mind since the first online patient portal gave consumers a way to access their personal health information digitally. But never before has it been more important to get patient empowerment right than in 2022.
What makes this the year of the empowered patient? For one, technology has matured to the point that it’s finally possible to give patients a true digital front door, putting your EHR and your patient portal front and center while also allowing one-tap access to health risk assessments, wellness content, find-a-provider tools, and other information patients want at their fingertips.
For another, the advent of application programming interfaces (APIs) give healthcare systems access to out-of-the-box integrations never thought possible. At the same time, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is calling on the healthcare industry to adopt standardized APIs to help people securely and easily access structured EHR information using smartphone apps.
While technological advances help to position 2022 as the year of patient empowerment, so too do providers’ ever-changing mindset toward technology and patient care. After more than a decade of trial-and-error, health systems are finding innovative ways to empower both patients and providers through the use of technology. In short, patient empowerment doesn’t mean disempowered providers. Instead, it means leveraging a full array of technologies to enrich the overall care experience for the people who provide the care and for those who receive the care.
But what does patient empowerment mean, anyway?
At its heart, patient empowerment is a process that helps people take responsibility for their own health and well-being. A patient empowerment framework, most often driven by technology, allows people to actively participate in their care plans and act in ways that mean the most to them. In the perfect scenario, patient empowerment can help improve quality outcomes and lower costs.
But while these tenets provide a general overview of patient empowerment, the fact is, the exact definition of the term has been widely debated across the healthcare landscape and among the medical community for nearly two decades. One of our favorite definitions comes from the Financing Sustainable Healthcare in Europe report, which says empowerment typically has two aspects: (1) the having and sharing of power, and (2) sources of power and ways to increase power.
We like this definition because of the shared aspect. It clarifies the fact that technology isn’t giving power to providers and taking it away from patients. Instead, it’s sharing the power among both groups to create transformative care.
What does patient empowerment mean for patients?
For patients, patient empowerment means convenience, ease of use, and reduced stress levels. Patient portals are the first step in delivering that convenience, and they’re being used today more often than ever before.
According to the College of Healthcare Information Management Executive’s (CHIME) 2021 Digital Health Most Wired report, 83% of acute care organizations report widespread patient portal utilization, up 9 percentage points from 2020. Consumers rely on patient portals for prescription refills (88%), language-specific patient education (83%), appointment scheduling (83%), and health care screenings (82%), among other functions.
Yet patient empowerment goes beyond the portal. Patient utilization with mobile apps also increased by 9 percentage points in 2021, including blogs that have helped patients receive vital health and safety-related information during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Together, patient portals and other patient empowerment technologies can help create more informed patients. Take the example of Elise Sweeney Anthony, Executive Director of Policy for ONC, who recently shared her own breast cancer journey and discussed how technology helped her become an empowered patient.
“The biopsy results that confirmed my cancer were available to me in my patient portal before I saw or spoke with my doctor,” she wrote. “This gave me the time to take it all in and do some research on the type of cancer I appeared to have.” Anthony then used that information, and a subsequent talk with a friend and breast cancer survivor, to create a more informed dialogue with her provider at her first appointment.
“These important steps helped me process my diagnosis and empower me to prepare for what was next. The fact that my care team supported my choice to receive my lab results in that way was invaluable,” she wrote.
What does patient empowerment mean for providers?
For providers, patient empowerment up-levels the quality of conversation they can have with their patients. While some people believe the plethora of available health information online means patients will rely less on providers now and in the future, in reality, the opposite of true. Because so much information is out there—and much of it is conflicting or not 100% relevant to a particular patient—empowered patients rely on their providers to cut through the noise and give them definitive direction, something “Doctor Google” can’t do for them.
Patient empowerment solutions bring tangible benefits to providers, too. Take the case of appointment no-shows, a problem that vexes clinicians, erodes patient loyalty, and impacts care and costs. According to a 2019 athenahealth study, just one no-show increases attrition almost 70%, and 32% of patients with one or more no-shows don’t return to the same practice within 18 months.
In this case, one simple empowerment solution—text messaging reminders—can help save the day. A 2016 pilot study evaluated the effect of text messaging reminders by tracking 557 appointments over a three-week period. Researchers found that sending text message reminders decreased the overall percentage of no-shows by 2%. A further cost-benefit analysis yielded a potential 1:6 return. These findings provide powerful evidence that text messaging is effective in reducing no-show appointments and is cost beneficial.
Connection is the key to empowering both patients and providers
The best news about patient empowerment in 2022: online platforms are now available to help health systems fully integrate all their potential empowerment technologies into one digital front door, giving patients a single point of contact for all their health care needs.
Being able to connect solutions that were previously disconnected achieves two goals outlined by Aisha Umar Akeel and Darren Mundy in a 2018 Health Informatics Journal article, “Re-thinking technology and its growing role in enabling patient empowerment.” In the article, they discuss the importance of two systems theory concepts—holism, or broadening the scope of the patient empowerment process to include as many stakeholders and technological roles as possible, and iteration, defined as being able to produce results for patients that can be repeated over time and used as a starting point for the next iteration.
To achieve these concepts, the authors introduce a patient engagement framework they call Unified Technology-Driven (UTD). Their vision is for all the elements in the UTD framework to interact with each other systematically. These elements include:
- Personalized technologies, such as symptom checkers, chronic disease management and other self-care tools, that help the self-directed patient
- Assistive technologies, such as wearable devices or medication aids, that help create more confident patients
- Participative technologies, such as online health forums and social media groups, that help create engaged patients
- Knowledge-based technologies, such as health libraries and information systems, that help create informed patients
- Access technologies, such as EHRs, that allow patients to stay connected with their providers and health systems of choice
This UTD framework, according to the authors, “minimizes the trivialization of any health stakeholder’s role in making the role of doctor and patient equally important. Most importantly, through connected, informed, engaged, confident and self-directed patients, the distribution of health information and apps can be open to diverse groups of patients in relation to their needs.”
Make patient empowerment part of your 2022 plans today
With the right platform, health systems today can bring together multiple disparate apps and other point solutions to create a single, connected destination for all of their health information. Doing so will help you achieve patient empowerment in 2022 and use technology to help both patients and providers maximize care now and well into the future.
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