The Forum

57% of health care consumers are more proactive due to Covid-19. Here's how you should respond.

by Asya Igmen

In June, we surveyed 1,000 Australians to understand how health care consumer preferences have changed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Australian consumer preferences post-Covid-19: 5 areas consumer habits changed during wave one

One promising change? Consumers are willing to take more control over their health and wellbeing than ever before. Here's what they told us:

  • 61% said they're more interested in health care related news;
  • 57% said they're more interested in being proactive in their overall health and wellness;
  • 44% said they're more interested in improving their fitness routine;
  • 44% said they're more interested in improving their eating habits; and
  • 43% said they're more interested in improving their mental health.

This shift in Australian consumer interest is likely replicated across similar regions, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.

What's behind this trend?

We speculate that consumers recognise how factors such as weight, smoking, and chronic conditions put them at increased risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms, prompting healthier behaviour, such as improving fitness and eating habits. Additionally, social distancing, anxiety caused by Covid-19, and economic hardship have contributed to consumers' increased awareness of mental health.

Interestingly, patients who have a chronic condition showed even more interest in taking ownership of their health as a result of Covid-19. Given that health systems had to pause planned care due to the pandemic, many patients with long-term conditions were left to fend for themselves. Even when care was available, some patients didn't feel comfortable seeking care in person.

While delays in care are worrying, one potential silver lining is that the pandemic has caused patients to become more involved in managing their own conditions out of necessity.

A unique opportunity to activate patients

Health care providers should act now to encourage and support patient self-management while consumers are showing more interest in doing so. This is particularly important for health systems that will need to limit patient volumes this winter, in the face of Covid-19 and the flu season.

There are several tools we're seeing providers use to help patients turn increased interest in self-care into action:

  • Virtual care (e.g., check-in/support calls, video appointments);
  • Remote patient monitoring (e.g., wearables);
  • Patient activation tools (e.g., Patient Activation Measure, personalised care plans); and
  • Patient navigation (e.g., connecting consumers to social care).

Our Advisory Board colleagues have discussed how telehealth can improve patient engagement and the value of remote patient monitoring during and beyond the pandemic. I want to explore how we can use patient activation tools to help patients self-manage.

The most common barrier to adoption isn't the patient

Although consumers are interested in doing a better job caring for themselves, a lack of clinician interest often holds back adoption.

Consider the Patient Activation Measure (PAM)—a questionnaire that measures how knowledgeable, willing and confident a patient is at managing their own condition(s).

Since we first published research on PAM's six applications last year, our members have told us that there are barriers to using PAM at scale. While some providers have trouble justifying the cost of buying PAM licenses from Insignia, most concerns stem from failing to achieve buy-in from clinicians to use the tool. Even in England, where NHS has purchased PAM licenses for providers to use, we're seeing mixed adoption rates primarily due to doctor pushback.

Connecting the dots will increase clinician buy-in

It's crucial to make the time to explain the 'so what?' of patient activation tools to providers.

While PAM is just one of many clinical and non-clinical metrics that can be used to assess and manage a patient, it's an easy way to diagnose a patient's activation level and create a more tailored care plan.

But clinicians may see using PAM as an administrative task—and as merely another metric meant to measure provider performance. Additionally, when providers fail to successfully embed PAM into their workflows, it becomes too cumbersome to use. That is why it is necessary to thoughtfully embed PAM into existing workflows, provide enough time and support to clinicians to actually use the questionnaire, and clearly communicate how it can help both patients and consequently clinicians.

Regardless of the tool you choose to support patients in their self-care at this critical moment in time, more person-centred care planning and patient conversations on activation can lead to fewer hospitalisations, better chronic care management, and happier patients. Making the link between a tool and these care outcomes can do wonders in gaining clinician buy-in. The exercise of joining the dots can feel trivial, but it's a non-negotiable step to succeed in implementing a new tool.

Patient Activation Measure: An emerging tool for patient self-management

It’s difficult to activate a patient without a clear understanding of where the patient is and what we can do to support them. The patient activation measure—or PAM—is an emerging tool to help us direct and focus this work.

Our goal is to ensure our members have the most detailed and impartial evidence base on where it works and when, across six steps in the patient journey.

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