As healthcare organizations work to engage, empower, and collaborate with patients, the messaging that they choose to use matters. Providers can empower patients through education to increase their health literacy, providing them with tools to monitor and manage their health, and by implementing collaborative approaches where the patient feels supported.
Communication from providers to patients can often feel like it is only focusing on the negative. Some common messages patients receive include:
- Being told to fight for their rights as consumers so that they are informed of the cost of their healthcare.
- Patients with cancer or other chronic conditions are advised on how to overcome fear so they can battle against sickness.
- Patients with diabetes being told that they must change their lifestyle to avoid serious complications.
If every time the consumer engages with the healthcare system, they need to be prepared to fight, work, and change, they will feel resistant and disengaged with the very system that is meant to help them. From the patient perspective, it can be a very negative experience, even if the goal is to keep you healthy and improve your quality of life.
So how can health providers create effective messaging that will empower patients to do their part?
I am involved in some research that looks at effective ways to engage and empower patients (Baby Boomers, specifically) in healthy behaviors and then to sustain those behaviors. Early efforts to engage patients must be expanded beyond basic technology solutions to develop new ways of interacting with patients. Boomers have increased expectations for healthcare services and are receptive to approaches that empower them to maintain their health and manage chronic conditions. Innovative technology such as mHealth and collaborative interactions with patients can send empowering messages.
Sustaining healthy lifestyles usually comes down to motivation—whether you are talking about addiction, diet, sleep, or learning. In the book, No Sweat, by Michelle Segar, she discusses taking an approach to fitness that incorporates the science behind motivation. She points out that “the medical framework doesn’t take human decision making, motivation, and behavior into account.” She adds, “When motivation is linked to distant, clinical, or abstract goals, health behaviors are not compelling.” Her point is that we must make health goals relevant to our most important daily roles and priorities, and they must have the positivity and potency to consistently motivate us to prioritize and sustain our behaviors.
We have a long way to go to be successful in population health management. Almost all healthcare messages today are linked to clinical goals. This isn’t just a “nice-to-have” anymore, it is a “must-have” in order to improve healthcare outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.