Engaging patients in managing and monitoring their health by using health information technology has proven to positively change outcomes. In a recent study of over 3,500 patients with diabetes and hypertension, conducted by Kaiser Permanente, (KP) the use of secure patient-physician messaging in any two-month period was associated with statistically significant improvements in their chronic conditions. Results included 2 to 6.5 percentage point improvements in glycemic, cholesterol and blood pressure screening and control.
The study, which was published in the July 2012 issue of Health Affairs, concluded that putting patients and their data at the center of care resulted in improvements in health care quality, access and cost. Using My Health Manager, Kaiser Permanente members sent over 850,000 secure messages to their clinicians each month.of the study. The clinicians logged in nearly 3.5 million messages between January and April, 2011 to their patients in email exchanges that were focused on helping those patients empower themselves and better manage their health.
There are reasons why the KP project, and similar programs foster patient empowerment and engagement. The availability of a secure portal where patients communicate with their clinicians to ask those questions that they forgot to ask during their face to face visit, or address issues that come up between visits, enables them to stay connected,on top of their health issues, and out of the emergency room. The reward of getting answers quickly and easily without the frustration of telephone tag or the consumption of large amounts of time out of their busy day, encourages patients to engage more. This in turn leads to better management of health issues.
To engage, patients need knowledge, skills and emotional encouragement so they feel confident enough to ask the right questions and become involved. Among the actions that patient who engage must undertake are:
Use technology to communicate with providers
Make treatment decisions
Seek health knowledge, particularly related to their own health issues
Understand health costs and make appropriate choices
Work at preventive health and wellness
These are giant steps toward changing behaviors and moving to patient-centered care. Patient engagement is a cornerstone of the patient-centered medical home. It takes total commitment from patients and providers to accomplish. Without an engaged patient you cannot have a viable team approach to care. Although there are challenges, engaged patients are essential to realizing the needed changes to our health care system that will result in better quality health delivery and cost efficiencies.