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How Patient Engagement Supports Chronic Disease Management

In order for providers to be successful in chronic disease management, they must employ strong patient engagement strategies.

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Patient engagement and chronic disease management are both key components in support of the healthcare industry’s shift toward value-based healthcare.

Through robust patient support efforts inside and out of the doctor’s office, providers can boost overall patient wellness and forestall the development of serious complications, which may ultimately reduce healthcare spending and help them meet clinical quality benchmarks.

Because patient engagement and chronic disease management are both innately patient-centric, it is natural that providers should employ both care strategies in tandem. But how exactly do patient engagement and chronic disease management connect to one another? And how can providers use patient engagement to drive better chronic disease management?

Patient engagement is one of the best tools in a provider’s arsenal in handling  chronic disease management. Making sure patients are involved in and knowledgeable about their health is vital when addressing a chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease.

When patients are fully engaged in their care, they are more likely to maintain treatment plans, track their health, and ask their providers questions. These behaviors will ideally prevent an illness from getting worse and resulting in more costly and invasive interventions.

Using patient engagement for chronic disease management can be broken down into three general categories: preventing and detecting the condition, managing the condition with the provider, and managing the condition through self-management.

To accomplish these three steps, providers need to employ both interpersonal strategies and health information technology.

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Encourage preventive care and early detection

Chronic disease management arguably begins before a patient is even diagnosed with an illness. Through preventive care and early detection services, patients and providers can work together to mitigate early onset diseases.

This begins with the primary care provider, the epicenter of patient care. As primary care physicians tend to overall patient wellness, they are ideal for encouraging patients to take part in preventive healthy habits.

PCPs should provide wellness care in addition to sick care, helping to prevent chronic illnesses caused by poor lifestyle choices.

According to Mark Wagar, President and CEO of Heritage Medical Systems, promoting wellness outside of the point of care should be the entire focus of healthcare.

“It’s not enough to be really good when somebody falls in your door,” Wagar asserted.

“It’s in fact as important, if not more important, to be able to figure out how to work with them to improve their general health status so that they have fewer events where they fall in the door.”

For Wagar, wellness management means getting into the nitty-gritty of a patient’s lifestyle. Does she eat properly? Does she have trouble getting to appointments? Should her doctors enroll her in a wellness plan?

Asking all these questions is an important aspect of patient engagement. In answering them, providers can determine new prevention steps, or detect a chronic illness early on.

Through robust patient education tactics, providers can emphasize the importance of regular preventive screenings or incorporate screenings into their regular practice workflows.

Providers also must listen to their patients and take into account patient reports on health. By engaging in positive communication strategies, as well as consulting patient-generated health data, providers can catch patient-reported issues they otherwise may have missed.

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Use portals to continue communication with patients

Establishing education and communication between patients and all members of the care team is key to chronic disease management.

Providers like to use patient portals as a means to boost patient engagement because they serve both educational and communicative functions. This becomes incredibly useful as patients balance complicated treatment and medication regimens.

Research shows that the educational information available on patient portals can boost chronic disease management by up to ten percent.

According to researchers from Kaiser Permanente of Southern California, these technologies help fill gaps in care, which can easily occur for patients with complicated medical conditions. Through various screening functionalities, patient portals can direct important educational material to patients and alert them of new treatment plans.

Patient portal technology also helps facilitate patient-provider communication. When providers are available for consult through a simple message, they are able to address patient concerns immediately.

Patients can learn if they should head into the office when they are experiencing small chest pains or if there is a way to address the issue at home, which not only saves time and money but also helps patients and providers treat the disease one step at a time.

For Susan Wolver, MD, internist at VCU Medical Center, this functionality allows her to fine-tune patient treatment plans.

“It used to be that I’d make an adjustment at that point in time, and then wait to see what happens three months later,” Wolver said in a May interview. “Chances are now that I will find out what we can target, talk with them all through many, many, many touchpoints between that time and their next visit, probably make [treatment] adjustments.”

In making these adjustment, Wolver can make sure her patients are both healthy and comfortable between visits and work more quickly toward an effective and long-term treatment option.

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Use mHealth to foster patient self-management

While it is important for providers to maintain positive relationships with their chronically ill patients, they must also empower those patients to take care of their illnesses themselves. This task becomes much easier when patients adopt mHealth tools to help keep them engaged.

mHealth tools can have numerous different functions, including helping patients to track their diet and fitness or providing alerts to take medications and get health screenings.

Research shows that these tools can be incredibly effective. A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research shows that mHealth apps can help remind diabetic patients to build healthy habits, which improves chronic disease management.

The apps set up automatic messaging that reminded patients to eat healthier and get more exercise. Ultimately, these messages resulted in a 0.53% decrease in hBA1c levels. When patients lower their hBA1c by even one percentage point, their risk of mortality, myocardial infarctions, and microvascular complications also decrease.

Ultimately, this style of mHealth use can help providers engage patients in lifestyle changes.

“This type of intervention could address non-adherence to lifestyle recommendations by providing frequent reminders, motivational support and prompts to action, as well as timely access and feedback to relevant health information, while making patient-provider communication much easier,” the researchers wrote.

Patients can also use wearable devices to track their wellness. This empowers patients to take a claim in their own healthcare and helps them monitor their health on their own.

The world of health information technology is continuing to grow, which has positive implications for both patient engagement and chronic disease management. As providers encounter new apps and devices, they will have to work them seamlessly into their workflows while maintaining the personal touch necessary for full patient engagement.

Done correctly, however, providers can successfully care for the whole patient, introducing new strategies to help them manage chronic disease.

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