Patient Engagement and Health Literacy

Patient Engagement and Health Literacy

In the last few years healthcare has made significant changes, most for the better. The focus in healthcare has made a shift to preventative care, rather than sick care. Instead of only going to the doctor when you are sick, the goal is to implement screenings and provide education to prevent chronic conditions from occurring.  The goal is to keep patients happier, healthier, decrease avoidable Emergency Room visits and hospitalizations and help reduce the costs for patients and payers alike.   

Providers are given options on how they will report their quality of care but reporting is necessary to be successful in a value based market. Much is at stake for providers, shared savings or shared losses, patient satisfaction scores, provider report cards, future contracts, all play a part and all results follow the provider into the future.   

But what about the patient? What role does the patient play in all of this? Patient outcomes and patient participation can make or break a provider’s bottom line in this new pay for performance atmosphere. Failing to educate your patient population on the importance of their health, the resources they utilize and how they use them could have a huge impact on your quality measures, QRUR report and overall success of your practice. 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines Health Literacy as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Only 12 percent of adults have Proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.  In other words, nearly nine out of ten adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.  Fourteen percent of adults (30 million people) have Below Basic health literacy.  These adults were more likely to report their health as poor (42 percent) and are more likely to lack health insurance (28 percent) than adults with Proficient health literacy. Low literacy has been linked to poor health outcomes such as higher rates of hospitalization and less frequent use of preventive services. Both of these outcomes are associated with higher healthcare costs.

These statistics can be frightening and motivating at the same time. Providers need to make changes in how they communicate and what they communicate with patients. Empowering Health Coaches in the practice to work with those with chronic conditions has proven very effective. Health Coaching visits should be scheduled between routine visits for patients that need additional resources and monitoring of chronic conditions like HTN, DM, CKD, etc. Health Coaching can include education on diet, exercise, disease management, the type of service provided is personalized to each patient’s needs. Teach your patients the importance of communicating with you and your office. Make sure they understand the conditions they are being treated for, the importance of medication compliance and results of noncompliance. Develop a plan for patients that frequent the emergency room, make sure they understand that a visit to the office is better than a visit to the emergency room for simple problems. Educate on what a true emergency is, many patients over utilize emergency rooms and ambulance services. Partnering with community outreach programs will help to connect patients to the help they need for prescription assistance, utility programs, transportation and housing resources.   

Patients with chronic conditions are the primary consumers of healthcare.  These patients account for over 75% of all hospital days, physician office visits, home health care and prescription drugs expenses. 2 So the chances that your patient with chronic conditions is fully aware of the condition, treatment plan, instructions and outcomes is slim.  Patients that are not actively engaged and do not understand the condition they are being treated for are more likely to be non-compliant. With noncompliance comes a multitude of consequences including prescription nonadherence, increased risk of disease related complications, avoidable hospital admissions and a strained relationship between patient and provider.  

Health Literacy affects all walks of life. 

The time to get patients actively engaged in their own health care is now. It starts with a simple conversation during the visit, assess the patient’s knowledge and build from there. Be respectful and empower your patient to a part of their healthcare team.  Let the patient know that you are in this together. The outcome whether positive or negative does have an impact on both provider and patient.