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Patient Engagement: Making Progress Abroad and at Home Too

September 11, 2014
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The day when patients will be active participants in their care treatment is soon coming and I am pretty excited about it.

No, I’m not talking about Apple’s latest bonanza of self-importance and overpriced gadgetry. I think my editor, Mark Hagland, covered that ridiculousness pretty well

I will admit: The Apple iWatch is great for the patient-generated health data movement. There are many people out there who continue to gobble up everything Apple presents to them with a spoon. Having them on board will certainly push this kind of engagement forward, especially when organizations like the Mayo Clinic are involved. Whether you like it or not, this is a form of patient engagement.

However, I think Apple has received enough press on that event to last a lifetime.  I’m more interested in a recent study I saw in Health Affairs about patient engagement efforts occurring around the globe.

Researchers from various nonprofits, including the Imperial College London and the Qatar Foundation, examined patient engagement initiatives in the U.S., UK, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and one by the World Health Organization (WHO). What they found was encouraging. When patients, families, and health delivery organizations partner together, the benefits can be felt at a personal, community, or public level.

In the UK, social entrepreneur Jen Hyatt created an online mental health community in 2007 to help those in need manage their care with support from clinicians, family members, and each other. The initiative, called the Big White Wall, has slowly helped mental health patients feel safe in receiving support in dealing with their fears.

In the UAE, there is a high rate of inherited genetic disease. The UAE Genetic Disease Association launched a successful genetic screening testing initiative, using active university students who reached out to individual communities within the country.  

In the U.S., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston brought on 300 family or patient advisors who have improved patient flow and planned a cancer center with patient and family amenities. BIDMC also created a patient portal, which allows them to communicate with physicians via email and request prescription refills.

The WHO created a seven-day mother and baby checklist, which helps new mothers identify danger signs in the first week after birth. Mothers are prompted to use the checklist via mobile phones and can send a message to a healthcare worker when something is going wrong. WHO piloted in three hospitals in India last year.

The four initiatives show us that patient engagement isn’t just a buzz phrase—although it is that too—it’s a concept that is starting to make an impact in places where there needs to be an impact. It’s not just a way for some company to make an extra buck. It’s real. As the authors note, even a small gain, repeated across hundreds of millions of people, is monumental.

It seems every day something encouraging is popping up. For instance, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation recently awarded a three-year, $1,119,000 grant to establish Center for Health Information Activation (CHIA). The aim of this initiative is to help consumers and their families to receive credible health information that is applicable to them. It is building on a framework of informing the patient, which is an admirable goal.

When something becomes as “trendy” as patient engagement—so trendy that during the event to announce the new iWatch, Apple brought U2 on stage to perform a song—it’s easy to get cynical. I believe this movement has a long way to go to be accepted by the medical community. Many doctors will still roll their eyes at the concept and wish it away.

Despite all of that, it’s hard not to look around the globe and see that patient engagement is doing A-OK. That makes me happy.


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