There is no doubt that the US healthcare system is moving towards a landscape of patient empowerment. American patients are demanding access to their health data so they can make informed decisions about where and how they receive care.
This really isn’t a surprising turn of events.
We are a data-driven society and many people love being able to track statistics about themselves. In the time of popular fitness wearables, like Fitbits and Apple Watches, some patients already know a lot of information about their health. Stats on blood pressure, heart rate, and sleep patterns can be easily monitored at home.
But there is more to this issue than meets the eye. Let’s take a deeper look at what patient empowerment has historically meant, what it means today, and how it can be achieved.
What is patient empowerment?
While patient empowerment is the new buzz word in healthcare, the World Health Organization (WHO) has had a definition for the term in their health promotion glossary since 1998. According to the WHO, patient empowerment is “a process through which people gain greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health.” In the past, patient empowerment has been interpreted to mean supporting patients with educational materials such as pamphlets about disease prevention. These types of materials are still an important component of maintaining health across the world. Across nations struggling to fight AIDs, educating patients on safe health practices is central to controlling the spread of disease.
But with the release of the Office of the National Coordinator’s final rules on the 21st Century Cures Act, it’s clear that this definition needs to be updated to meet modernized standards. These rules outline federal regulations for implementing technology that digitizes health information and makes it accessible to patients. This would make it easier for patients to seek second opinions and shop around for care. But more importantly, it would give patient’s the ability to become partners in healthcare. With information such as detailed lab results, health history records, and scans, patients would know more about their condition and how it is being treated.
On the road to patient empowerment, information is key. That aspect of the definition hasn’t changed. However, as we look ahead, a new definition of patient empowerment needs to include the type of information patients are given and how they can access that information.
Read more: To learn more about information blocking, check out this post .
What effect does patient empowerment have on health outcomes? The evidence in favor of patient empowerment is unmistakable. The OpenNotes movement has done a lot to move the needle on patient data access and healthcare transparency. In a study done by OpenNotes, patients with immediate access to their provider’s appointment notes were sixty percent more likely to adhere to medications, a major concern with managing chronic conditions. This is especially striking when considering that poor adherence to medications contributes to 120,000 deaths a year in the U.S.
It’s clear that patients make better choices after they are released from care when they are armed with the right information. To prepare patients after a diagnosis or being put on a new prescription/regime, providers sometimes implement a shared decision-making process.
According to the Patient Empowerment Network, shared decision-making is the “conversation that happens between patients and physicians to reach a healthcare choice together.” Decisions made in these conversations might include the choice to start a new medication or have a surgery.
Barriers to Patient Empowerment
Obviously, giving patient’s access to their information and sending them on their way isn’t enough. They need to be given tools to understand health information in order to take action. Enter health literacy.
Health literacy was described in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.” Patient empowerment and health literacy go hand in hand. If you have access to information about your health but no means to understand it, the information is basically useless.
Similarly, digital literacy is an important component of patient empowerment. While most Americans have adopted the use of mobile phones, tablets, and computers, sharing downloadable x-rays, blood test results, and medication alerts will almost certainly be a barrier to empowerment for some patients.
As a final note on this topic, it’s important to just generally consider literacy. 21% of Americans are functionally illiterate. Using technology to empower patients isn’t much good if patients can’t access or understand it. For the OpenNotes movement, this means encouraging doctors, nurses, and therapists to invite patients to read visit notes together during their appointment.
Engaged patients are healthy patients.
For most providers, improving patient health and satisfaction is at the center of their practice. Providing patients with access to their data leads to better communication, superior chronic disease management, and improved health outcomes. Health data can be complex and the tools we use to access and share that data can be difficult to navigate. If you’re looking for a way to share patient health data securely and easily, try Formstack. With Formstack’s HIPAA compliant solution, gathering data, generating patient documents, and collecting signatures is simple, secure, and fast. It’s never been easier to adopt interoperable practices that empower patients, exceed compliance standards, and improve patient experiences.