According to Paveljit S. Bindra, MD, author of The Core Elements of Value in Healthcare (Health Administration Press, 2018), patient activation and engagement are essential components to value-based healthcare. While activated patients possess the knowledge and skill to manage their own healthcare, they are also motivated and confident to do so. Patient engagement, then, is the follow-through to being activated, with patients genuinely involved in activities and decisions that affect their overall health.
But if the Affordable Care Act focuses on reducing costs and on delivering value to patients, what is the connection between costs, value and patient activation?
In a study conducted by the Health Policy Research Group at the University of Oregon, not only was patient activation found to help improve health outcomes (which speaks to the value of the healthcare received), but it also helped reduce patient healthcare costs. Findings showed that “higher activated individuals are more likely to engage in positive health behaviors,” which relates to better health outcomes and care experiences.
In fact, the findings also showed that there was a 31 percent cost differential between highly activated patients and those who were low in activation. It would seem, then, that increasing patient activation is key to successfully embracing the ACA. The researchers recommended making patients part of the process vs. simply telling patients what to do. Instead of sharing information with a patient, help them gain the skills needed to confidently problem-solve and make informed decisions.
Of course, not every patient is starting from the same place in terms of existing skill sets or the ability to develop them. Healthcare organizations fully embracing value-based care will need processes in place to assess patient skill, and tools to develop patient confidence and increase activation potential. Some organizations even begin this process with educational content in support of value-based care right on the organization’s website. For example, United Healthcare has devoted an entire section on their website to value-based care, and included content specifically for consumers.
Healthcare organizations seeking to reduce costs and increase value would do well to include specific strategies for increasing patient activation and engagement in their long-term plan.