Sometimes, we like to think of patient behavior as separate from human behavior, and analyze the two separately. But, patients, like all humans, need to be motivated. Whether this is intrinsic, extrinsic or both, we need to be motivated to take an action or complete a task. This is basic human psychology, and how we are wired.
Yet, it should not comes as a surprise many people in the US, and abroad, ignore their health. People don’t care about their health until they have to. Take obesity as an example. Over the past several decades, obesity in the United States has risen dramatically from just 19.4 percent in 1997 to 35.7 percent in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This trend is significant and alarming. On this current trajectory, it is projected that more than half of Americans will be obese by 2030. And, this would contribute to a plague of other chronic diseases, which currently are crushing the US healthcare system. The cases of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and related-Cancer would also double by 2030 as a result.
Even though individual providers may attempt to address the issue with a prescription for 'more physical activity' and ‘watching what you eat,’ the issues remain unresolved, and the patients still suffer. And sometimes it takes an event (i.e., a diabetes diagnosis, stroke, or heart attack) to get people to really care. There must be a way to preempt this. This lack of patient engagement makes it difficult to reach desired outcomes. Providers must rely on patients to self-report data and patients to carry the responsibility of managing their health and care plan on their own. The two groups are operating mutually-exclusively, instead of working together to achieve results. This leaves the healthcare industry wrestling with a perplexing dilemma: What can stimulate patients to care more about their health and how can providers effectively engage patients, without creating a burden on their time?
The answer is technology. As consumers, we use technology everyday to better our lives. For example, we care about trying to travel to a destination so we share our location with Google Maps to give us the possible journeys to help us arrive quickly and safely to a location. We care about eating good local food, so we share our location with Yelp that gives us information to make a good decision for visiting the nearest Mexican restaurant. Why not extend this experience of caring, sharing, and getting insights to our health? More and more tools are becoming available to help the patient better self-manage and the provider better track, educate, intervene and communicate with patients. Indeed, patients can use a variety of mobile apps to monitor their diet, exercise and weight – all in an effort to improve their health. But, while these tools hold much potential, they are not an off-the-shelf solution to the patient engagement issue. To make wearable devices and other mobile health apps more useful, information sharing needs to become part of the equation.
When clinicians have access to this data, they can provide patients with additional context or intervene with a set of actions that help move the patient toward improved health. When healthcare professionals are receiving actionable data and providing feedback on the real-time information, the connected patient receives continuous insights on their health, in a way they can understand, enabling them to take action. This also keeps them motivated, which is key. As such, the patient goes from simply caring to being connected and sharing to being continuously engaged – and ultimately becomes truly involved in the process to achieving his/her best possible health outcome.
We are at a pivotal crossroads in healthcare. The numbers cited earlier - of half of the population suffering from at least one chronic condition - is our reality. The current patient engagement trends are moving in the right direction: the digital health technology exists, patients are using technology more to gain control of their health, and providers are showing signs of adoption.
There is no question that technology can be an accelerator to better patient engagement, but let’s remember… it starts with sharing and with caring.
About Chris Edwards
Chris is the Chief Marketing Officer at Validic, the industry’s leading digital health platform that connects actionable data from clinical devices, fitness wearables, sensors and apps for its clients which include hospitals, payers, pharm, wellness companies and health IT companies. He has been running global marketing and strategy for healthcare technology B2B and B2C companies for over 20 years. He has a passion to put the “health” back into “healthcare,” and can be followed on twitter @chrissedwards.