Better Outcomes for Less Cost Will Follow Engaged Patients

One way to make that happen is by making automated messages from provider to patient part of chronic disease management.

Chuck Hayes

Patients deal with chronic conditions on a daily basis, not just during the handful of times each year when they visit their doctor. It takes ongoing effort from both patients and physicians to keep chronic health conditions in check. A person with diabetes, for example, must take multiple actions every day to avoid complications. Testing blood sugar, taking prescribed insulin, eating balanced meals, exercising—these are just a few of the things that may be part of a diabetic patient’s daily regimen. Ignoring or forgetting a doctor’s advice could result in serious complications and hospitalization.

Nudging needed

Health care expenditures in the U.S. are expected to be in the neighborhood of $3 trillion this year. About 80% of those expenditures will be for patients with at least one chronic disease. Nearly half (45%) of American adults have a chronic health condition and a quarter have more than one chronic illness.

Patients readily admit they do a better job of taking care of themselves when they receive reminders and motivational messages from their health care providers. According to a West survey, 83% of people say they don’t always do what their doctors tell them, and only 5% of surveyed doctors would give their patients an “A” grade for following treatment plans. That means there are a lot of patients that are not doing the things they need to do to keep chronic health problems at bay.

However, nearly 40% of patients say they would follow their doctor’s orders if they received some sort of reminder or nudge between visits either by text message, email, or voice mail between visits.

About three quarters of health care providers currently utilize appointment reminder technology that can be optimized and used to send automated text, email, and voice mail messages. So a majority of physicians and hospitals already have the technology they need to begin creating and sending automated engagement communications.

Focus on specific actions

When creating motivational engagement messages, health care teams should think about the different areas that make up chronic disease management and then zero in on the specific actions they want patients to take. General messages will be ignored or seem just like nagging. For example, patients don’t always know when they are due for preventive services. Even if they do know, they may not take the initiative and schedule an appointment if they’re feeling well. A simple prompt with a text message or email is often all it takes to encourage patients to make an appointment.

Another way to support patients between visits is to send them automatic medication reminders. Patients with multiple chronic conditions usually have a lot of medications to juggle. Reminders to refill, pick up, or even take a prescribed medicine help patients better adhere to medication orders. At the same time, you must be careful about overdoing it and bombarding people with too many messages. Alarm fatigue is an issue.

Pats on the back

Engagement communications are not limited to reminder messages. They can be informational or simply encouraging. Health care teams can support patients with motivational messages, tips, tools, and resources.

Achieving optimal health outcomes for patients requires effort from both health care providers and the patients. Recognizing the importance of patient engagement in chronic disease management is the first step to success. Engagement should include technology-enabled communications that bridge the divide between in-person visits and remind patients of the steps they need to be taking to stay as healthy as possible. The result will reduce the health and financial burden of chronic disease on individual patients and the American health care system overall.

Chuck Hayes is vice president of product management for TeleVox Solutions at West Corporation in Mobile, Ala.

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