Getting Patient Engagement Right
In a Forbes article earlier this year, contributor Glen Tullman took aim at one health care trend that strikes him as counter intuitive: patient engagement. In a sense, he does have a point.
As he says, “People want to be less engaged with their chronic diseases. They want to focus on living their lives, not on their problems.” The best solutions — the ones that are truly effective — relieve individuals of burden, rather than adding to them. An insulin pump, for example, allows health care consumers with diabetes to match their insulin to their lifestyle. The alternative? Individuals must frequently test blood sugar and take multiple insulin injections throughout the day, matching their life to how well the insulin is working.
Many health care organizations and pharmaceutical manufacturers view patients as “walking health conditions,” almost as if the human being is a vessel for an issue that needs to be corrected. However, patients do not think of themselves that way, and that gap is a barrier to effective patient engagement.
Hospitals and other health care organizations must develop patient engagement strategies that, as Tullman suggests, “empower people with chronic diseases by providing them with the tools to escape the shadow of their illnesses.”
Health Care Consumerism Demands Greater Understanding
Tullman rightly calls hospitals to task for “adopting a patronizing approach that’s been proven not to work. They reduce people with chronic illness to a problematic and expensive bundle of symptoms.” This is precisely where health care consumerism goes wrong.
Providing copious amounts of information will not engage patients — and may, in fact, disengage them further. After all, taking a pill for blood pressure or some other chronic condition is simple enough, yet according to the National Community Pharmacist Association, $290 billion in annual health care costs can be attributed to patients who fail to adhere to prescribed treatments.
Driving this point home is research by Johns Hopkins’ schools of Public Health and Medicine, which founds that 53% of physicians are overweight or obese. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a quarter of Licensed Practical Nurses smoke. If the most informed and educated people regarding health struggle to maintain healthy habits, how is the average patient expected to do any better?
Tullman suggests that the answer lies in seeing individuals — not diagnoses — and developing solutions that meet individual needs without adding complexity to their lives. Without insights into the unique attitudes, motivations and lifestyles of consumers, finding the right solution to drive engagement could require an inefficient, trial-and-error approach.
Instead, hospitals and other health care organizations need tools to better understand health care consumers in order to influence decision-making and behaviors.
Traditional market research can provide some answers, but it still tends to group consumers into uniform populations — leading to one-size-fits-all engagement strategies that miss the mark. Consumer segmentation offers greater distinction among groups, from broad demographic and socioeconomic segments to narrower behavioral, attitudinal and psychographic segments that delve deeper into motivational triggers for behavior.
The PatientBond Consumer Diagnostic, for example, leverages in-depth consumer research covering a wide range of criteria related to today’s health care consumers, including:
- Demographic and socioeconomic variables
- Media and communication style preferences
- Preferred sources for prescriptions
- Desired attributes of health insurance plans
- Health status related to more than forty health conditions including several types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, anxiety and depression
In addition, the PatientBond Consumer Diagnostic identifies five distinct psychographic segments based on consumers’ attitudes towards health and wellness. This level of segmentation helps organizations — from hospitals and physicians to insurers, employers, retailers and pharmaceuticals manufacturers — predict how individual consumers will respond to patient engagement efforts based on their unique motivations, and design their patient engagement efforts accordingly.
For example, while one patient may be motivated by his or her commitment to family, another may be driven by a need to exert personal control over a chronic disease, while another patient requires immediate gratification and will not change his or her behavior because of a promise of future benefit; the communications directed at these patients need to address these differences in order to be effective.
Taking a More Focused Approach
By employing analytics to identify smaller, like-minded groups of health care consumers, health care organizations can develop innovative — and influential — programs to drive and maintain patient engagement. Just as retailers have responded to consumer preferences to make stronger brand connections, health care consumerism demands that organizations align their efforts to empower the proactive patient who may appreciate a self-management tool, as well as the reactive patient who may need a more intuitive, less time-consuming tool to drive medication compliance.