Patient engagement: raising awareness and empowering patients!

Published on 13 October 2020 Read 25 min

Encouraging patients to play a more active role in managing their health, known as “patient activation”  is important for improving their outcomes. Especially in the current age, with information reaching us from all directions, reliable initiatives are of paramount importance. Many of them continue to appear over the last couple of years and our team decided to find out what makes them successful. Answers in this article!

Informing patients and helping them manage their condition through new technologies

For patients to be able to take a more active role in managing their health, they first and foremost must be aware of their condition and have access to information about it. For years, pharmaceutical companies and many public actors have been working hard to achieve that goal, not only through disease awareness and information campaigns but also moving towards more innovative digital solutions. One such example can be the Merck Manual apps, created by Merck with versions for both patients and doctors. They are digital versions of manuals the company has been publishing since 1899. The app for patients provides reliable information related to numerous diseases, treatments, symptoms, and diagnostic tests. It also includes self-assessment tools. Its main goal is to inform patients and make medical knowledge accessible to them.

Some are going a step further, introducing symptoms and wellbeing trackers. Not only do these applications collect and provide data that patients can use to fuel their disease management discussions with their doctors, but they also help patients track and manage their condition more independently. Such solutions are being launched by start-ups and big pharma players alike, one example being Novartis’ SymTrac, which helps Multiple Sclerosis patients track their symptoms and general wellbeing and prepare for their follow up consultations.

On top of that, more and more solutions are incorporating wearables or home devices which have built-in sensors that measure vitals or activity levels and feed that information to the app to give a more comprehensive picture of the patient’s condition. Such a platform was developed by NuvoAir, a Swedish medical device manufacturer. It is designed to support the management of a range of respiratory conditions and includes a Bluetooth-connected home spirometer.

Patient activation for better treatment outcomes

At their core, all these solutions aim at encouraging patients to take a bigger role in managing their health, which can be defined as patient activation. The term encompasses the knowledge, skills and confidence patients have regarding caring for their wellbeing. Activated patients know how to take care of themselves, what symptoms to look out for and monitor, and are slowly becoming their own advocates, taking a more engaged role in treatment decisions.

For years, both public and private actors in the health system have been putting increasing efforts into patient activation initiatives and they have many reasons to do so. One of such reasons is the importance of compliance and adherence. For many severe diseases such as cancer, to achieve positive treatment outcomes, it is crucial that patients follow specialist recommendations, adjust their behavior, and adopt new routines, as well as take their medicine.

But better treatment outcomes are not the only benefits. Studies have shown that activating patients leads to a decrease in their readmissions and emergency consultations, which means more time for doctors and lower costs for public payers.

However, although larger patient engagement usually leads to better outcomes, it is not without pitfalls and risks. With the internet, social media, and other sources, we are constantly bombarded with new information, also concerning our health. Some of it may be false or inaccurate but it is increasingly difficult to filter it out. Doctors are already voicing their concerns that patients influenced by such misinformation might engage in practices harmful for their health and may even be less inclined to listen to specialists.

What are the key success factors for patient activation initiatives?

With this risk in mind, the design and implementation of reliable patient activation initiatives are even more important. For all such endeavors, the overarching goal should always be to fulfill the real needs of patients and truly facilitate their lives. Of course, the specific factors of success for a given initiative must be explored separately, looking at the patient pathway, the local healthcare environment and the patient profile, but three factors always remain key: the involvement of appropriate stakeholders, the distribution method and memorability.

Involvement of appropriate stakeholders

Involving patients, patient associations and healthcare professionals gives weight and credibility to the campaign but also assures that the final creation will respond to what patients truly need and expect. Working together with such stakeholders will help select the relevant elements to focus on and their engagement in prototype testing will guarantee usefulness for the target patient group. That was done by J&J which has been collaborating with specialists and patient associations since 2016 to launch its app Care4Today® IBD, a medical device that helps patients comprehensively manage their condition.

Distribution method

Different patient profiles will require different methods to reach them. Combining various digital and analog platforms makes it possible to reach a broader audience with various levels of engagement. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, public health and regional authorities are turning to TikTok to reach young people with safety and hygiene guidelines, with even the CDC considering such a step.

Memorability of campaigns

Unusual, humorous, or surprising campaigns are even more impactful and, can increase awareness. One interesting example that has caught our eye was Cochlear’s cinema ad in Australia. The short film shown before projections was actually a hidden hearing test. It showed a love story that, depending on one’s hearing had a happy or sad ending, making people aware of their potential hearing issues.

The current dynamic of patient activation initiatives primarily benefits all patients, who now have the tools to be better informed, engaged, and involved in their health. At Alcimed, we have had the chance to work on such initiatives and we are excited to continue playing our part in shaping a future care pathway with the patient playing a more central and engaged role!

Interested in this topic? Discover our achievements in activation consulting.

About the author

Kinga, Consultant in Alcimed’s Healthcare team in Belgium

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