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Making the case for engaged patients

Personal · May 24, 2017

Patient engagement demonstrates better health outcomes at lower cost

When Alicia Raimundo was a child, sadness and anxiety were a daily mountain to climb. As she entered her teens, feeling deeply disconnected and unable to help herself, she attempted suicide.

Now an impassioned speaker, author and mental health superhero, Alicia reflects on that difficult time and the critical importance of connected self-care to treat mental illness. Every day, she helps others pull themselves out of the darkness. And by codesigning a mental health patient engagement app for the national Sandbox Youth Mental Health Initiative, she was able to channel her experience.

Putting patients at the centre

Patient engagement is a concept that has been gaining momentum across the world.

Engaged patients play an active role in good health. Many providers are now offering more ways to be involved in the journey, including tools that let us manage our health from anywhere and more easily connect with care. Patients are using these tools to share self-monitored health metrics with our care teams, view our lab results, book appointments and discuss progress. And we’re staying healthier as a result.

Of course it makes intuitive sense to put patients at the centre of our own health, where we belong. But patient engagement programs across the country are also turning out hard numbers on the benefits: healthier outcomes at lower costs, and better experiences for both patients and the providers who care for us.

Opening the window on care

There are many ways patients can become more engaged in our own care, including

  • Sharing data like mood, fitness, blood pressure and glucose

  • Viewing lab results, immunizations, medications and other clinical summary data

  • Communicating with providers for appointments, prescription renewals, alerts and secure messages

Better health

Taking healthcare beyond hospital and clinic walls to empower patients

Alicia Raimundo sees the massive potential of connected mental health technologies like the Sandbox initiative’s patient engagement tool.

“Ongoing mood monitoring is great,” she says, “but not in isolation. What would a patient do with five straight days of ‘sad’? We need that data to be connected to the expertise and evidence-based care plans of our care teams.”

Sandbox participants use the TELUS Health solution to record day-to-day feelings in connection with a care provider and action plan. Most reported greater self-awareness and autonomy, and improved relationships with their therapy teams.

“This technology is a lifeline,” said Walter, who used the app to manage his panic attacks and get back to the activities he loves, like golf. “It will help a lot of people – and maybe even save someone’s life.”

Patient engagement is also poised to boost health in other ways across the country.

TELUS Health recently partnered with eHealth Saskatchewan to roll out a personal health record to over a thousand people, who gained access to their medical history, lab results, vaccination records, prescription history and more. Close to 90% of participants saw great value in being able to access and contribute to health records, and felt it would lead to better health.

Some of these patients love the tool simply as a support for wellness. But patient engagement technologies can be life-changing for people living with chronic conditions.

“With no kidney function on one side, I undergo constant testing,” said eHealth Saskatchewan participant Tyler. “This tool lets me take an active role in my own health rather than wait for my doctor to call.”

Lower costs

Preventing unnecessary hospital admissions for chronic disease patients

Patient engagement is also a powerful way to reduce care costs. Global research shows that patients who are less engaged cost the health system up to 21% more than those who are engaged*, and Canadian results confirm this finding.

Through a British Columbia home health monitoring project, patients with heart and lung disease use wireless devices at home to measure their own vitals, which they send to their medical team through regular electronic updates. If things don’t look good, a team member calls to deal with the issue proactively.

The project resulted in a remarkable 76% lower use of the health system among participants, translating to a cost avoidance of between $4,000 and $14,000 per patient. Adding up the high cost of both acute care and chronic disease, potential savings can be dramatic to say the least.

But ongoing monitoring to avoid acute care is ultimately about better quality of life. Said another project participant Carolyn: “The technology makes me feel more secure because I’m being monitored 24-7 in the safety of my own home.”

Great experiences

Convenience and time savings for patients and healthcare staff alike

Finally, patient engagement tools can make every interaction with care easier and faster. Clients at the Mission Oaks Medical Centre in Mission, B.C. have embraced their new portal to book visits, view records and communicate with the clinic. It’s convenient for patients and saves valuable staff time on phone calls.

The clinic also uses the portal to send automatic alerts. Calling or sending notification letters used to take days. Now the portal lets staff automate alerts in minutes. And they work. A recent reminder to women due for breast cancer screening saw 78% log into the system within two days to initiate their screening.

Canadians want to be engaged:

  • 89% think digital health technology will lead to better care

  • 85% lack access to these tools

  • 80% would use digital health solutions if available**

“The alerts went very smoothly,” said Erin, the clinic’s medical office assistant. “We plan to set up more notifications for other conditions and recalls.”

The promise of mobile health technologies

Patient engagement apps and solutions are showing a great deal of promise. And Canadians are clearly keen to use them.

Fortunately, the health technology market is stepping up. Global forecasts for mobile health solutions are nearing US $60 billion by 2020.

Right now, patients in many locales have access to products like personal health records and remote consultation apps. As we see more of these technologies rolled out to engage patients and simplify healthcare delivery, all signs point to better health at a lower cost

This article was first published in Canadian Healthcare Technology digital version – May 2017 edition

* O’Conner et al. “Understanding factors affecting patient and public engagement and recruitment to digital health interventions: A systematic review of qualitative studies,” 2016.

** TELUS Health digital health survey, 2016. Conducted by MARU/VCR&C.

Authored by:
Shannon Malovec
Principal, Patient Engagement