Consumers are often ill-equipped to have meaningful discussions with health care providers about their individual health needs. The lack of quality information may cause them to make poor decisions that could lead to results antithetical to their objectives. Additionally, the knowledge that they do possess could also be misunderstood or inaccurate.

Similarly, general information alone is also not sufficient for consumers to make informed decisions. Providers must engage the consumer in conversations about risks versus benefits, and how these fit with the individual’s goals and preferences.

“Providing high-quality information to consumers through well-designed tools, as well as other resources to help them interpret that information, can… empower consumers to make superior choices. In general, consumers want cost, quality, and treatment information that is highly personalized to their situations, goals and preferences, and delivered at the point of decision-making”1

Effectively shared decision making has a tangible benefit to both providers and consumers. It enables consumers to have a greater knowledge of their treatment options, a more accurate understanding of risks and benefits, and a higher probability of receiving care aligned with their goals and preferences. Two areas of focus for providers to ensure accurate and transparent shared decision making are patient activation and care team communication.

Patient activation

Consumers must be engaged and activated to participate in their care for clinical services to be truly effective. This requires both understanding health information and a willingness to share in care decisions and processes. Meaningful participation—not just willingness (or engagement), but willingness and ability to manage one’s healthcare—is often referred to as activation. Activation can be described as the process of imparting confidence, knowledge, and skills, in order for consumers to be active and informed participants in their health care.2

Activation is a critical component of effective health management, and the confidence and knowledge necessary to proactively maintain and improve one’s health are predicated on access to accurate and individualized information. A 2018 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Open Network showed that even moderate patient education drove activation levels. In this study, a randomized clinical trial demonstrated the effectiveness of customized education—including accurate treatment regimen, specific prior biomarkers, and individualized goals—in improving health outcomes and patient engagement.3

Providers are also developing and implementing technology solutions to activate consumers in managing their health. These range from providing health tracking information—making individual health information transparent and accessible—to better communication tools, allowing consumers immediate access to provider guidance and support. One recent study, authored by Dr. Ming Tai Seale and others, at UC San Diego Health and UC San Diego School of Medicine, highlighted technology-enabled engagement practices at four organizations and demonstrated improved health outcomes through the increased patient activation.4

Patient activation is strongly related to improved health-related outcomes, including prevention, regulation of unhealthy behaviors, clinical indicators, and appropriate use of the health care system.5. Providers must begin to focus on enhancing consumer engagement through education, empowerment, and effective communication.

Care Team Communication

Accurate and transparent communication is vital to excellent customer experience. However, just as important as direct communication with consumers is collaborative communication throughout the care team. “In leading patient experience surveys by companies such as NRC Health, PRC and Press Ganey, the question How well did hospital staff work together as a team? is highly correlated with overall patient satisfaction.”6. That correlation is expected. Consumers who receive accurate and consistent information from the entire care team are more confident in their diagnosis, treatment plan, and overall clinical guidance.

Communication often breaks down because of misunderstanding, and in health care it can also break down when staff are not encouraged to speak transparently and openly question discrepancies. Providers must encourage open and transparent communication. Only then will staff feel empowered to question potentially incorrect data or investigate incongruities between data sources.

Nurses and nursing assistants play a particularly important role in the communication loop. They are the staff members with the most frequent and immediate interaction with consumers. If they are empowered to take action when verifying information and question inconsistencies, this will ultimately lead to improved consumer experience and health outcomes.

Conclusion

Effective communication is central to consumer experience in health care. It leads to high levels of confidence in the shared decision making that must occur for better health outcomes and an overall better experience. Consumer activation improves with this level of trust. Accurate and transparent communication throughout the care team and an engaged consumer promote tangible benefits for providers and consumers. Petalo is working with providers to enhance consumer activation and care team communication through technological innovation. If you would like to learn more, please visit us at www.petalo.ai.

  1. Caroline R. Steinberg and Susan Dentzer, “Transparency in Health Care: A Priority Roadmap for Consumer Engagement,” Network for Excellence in Health Innovation (July 27, 2017): 3.
  2. Judith H. Hibbard, J. Stockard, E. R. Mahoney, and M. Tusler, “Development of the Patient Activation Measure (PAM): Conceptualizing and Measuring Activation in Patients and Consumers,” Health Services Research (August 2004): 1005-1026.
  3. Peter J. Kaboli, et al, “Efficacy of Patient Activation Interventions With or Without Financial Incentives to Promote Prescribing of Thiazides and Hypertension Control,” JAMA Network Open (December 14, 2018) https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2718089.
  4. Ming Tai-Seale, et al, “Technology-Enabled Consumer Engagement: Promising Practices At Four Health Care Delivery Organizations,” Health Affairs (March 2019) https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2018.05027?journalCode=hlthaff.
  5. Jessica Greene and Judith H. Hibbard, “Why Does Patient Activation Matter? An Examination of the Relationships Between Patient Activation and Health-Related Outcomes,” Journal of General Internal Medicine (May 2012) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3326094/
  6. Burl Stamp, “How Better Communication can Improve Patient Outcomes and Lower Readmission Rates,” Healthcare Business & Technology (February 2019) http://www.healthcarebusinesstech.com/how-better-communication-can-improve-patient-outcomes-and-lower-readmission-rates/