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How Patient Education Tools Improve Chronic Disease Management

Patient education tools can help empower patients with the knowledge to achieve their healthcare goals, ultimately driving chronic disease management.

By Sara Heath

Empowering and engaging patient education tools are at the core of any meaningful chronic disease management program that succeeds in encouraging individuals to take the actions necessary to achieve their healthcare goals.

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At Centura Health, a Colorado-based healthcare system, leaders recognized the importance of patient education and made it a key component of their chronic disease management strategy, meeting patient preferences while measurably improving performance on certain outcomes measures.

“We see an improvement in outcomes when patients are actually engaged in their chronic diseases,” said Matthew Vitaska, Administrator of Outcomes Effectiveness and Patient Experience at Centura.

“That translates into better outcomes for the patient,” Vitaska said, using his diabetic patient population as an example. “From a clinical perspective, it means that they’re less likely to have sores or retinopathy, and more likely to have better vision. Overall, patients feel better if they’re not hyperglycemic.”

For Vitaska, patient engagement wasn’t just about moving the needle on key outcomes measures; it was also about delivering more ethical healthcare.

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“From a clinical perspective, driving patient outcomes is the right way to go. Those patients that are engaged are more likely to have a better experience,” Vitaska said.

“From an ethical perspective, it’s also the right thing to do,” he continued. “As a nurse and a healthcare team member, I have to partner with the patient to understand what the chronic disease means to them, what their current situation is, and how we can best adapt our care plan to their needs so we drive the best outcomes for them as possible.”

But meaningful patient engagement is often difficult to achieve, and it is even harder given Centura’s expansive patient population. Spanning nearly 200 clinics across Colorado and Kansas, Centura’s leadership team needed a tool to help them connect with and educate their patients to help manage their chronic illnesses between office visits.

To that end, Vitaska enlisted patient education technology geared toward empowering patients to meet care outcomes goals.

The Emmi Solutions tool can use EHR data to identify at-risk patients managing chronic diseases, allowing Centura providers to send patients educational modules to address the importance of health management and preventive care. Providers can send mass emails to all of their diabetes patients, for example, educating them in proper self-care strategies.

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“The goal of the modules is to be interactive,” Vitaska said. “Modules provide some didactic content but also have some videos in there and question and answer sessions to really engage the patient in their chronic condition to help drive optimal outcomes around that.”

Providers can also leverage the technology at the point of care, a more effective approach according to Vitaska. When used during appointments, clinicians can better explain the purpose behind the modules, ultimately driving better engagement.

“We think it’ll be more effective for the provider to have a conversation with the patient, especially in terms of engagement,” Vitaska said. “I’ll say to patients, ‘I’m going to send an educational module to you on diabetes and how you can potentially eat healthier, how you can think about your diet and your disease.’ This is more effective than the patient getting a mass email on the matter.”

This approach is also useful for emphasizing preventative care to patients, another important aspect of chronic disease management. Instead of leaving a care reminder in a patient’s inbox where it can easily be ignored or deleted, Vitaska finds personally discussing preventative care yields the best outcomes.

“What we’ve found that’s most effective is if the provider has a conversation prior to the outreach,” Vitaska said, offering a model for how providers can begin a discussion.

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Providers should point to a gap in care, such as a missing colonoscopy or breast cancer screening. From there, they should remind their patients of where they can access the service, and offer to answer any questions.

“The provider should say, ‘I’m going to send you through email a module that has a little more information about this,’” Vistaska said, tying in the education aspect of the outreach. “That’s been key for us. We have seen a fairly high conversion rate when we send out those modules in bulk, but it’s definitely higher when you have that face-to-face conversation with the patient.”

Ultimately, utilizing educational patient engagement technology has improved Centura Health’s bottom line: driving care outcomes improvement. The health system has seen patients improve and maintain their blood pressure within just six months of using the program, a 22 percent improvement over patients who did not engage in the tool.

Going forward, Vitaska and his team are working to determine how to best customize the technology so it meets all patient preferences. Different patients want to interact with the technology in different ways, he said, and meeting those needs is key in securing patient uptake.

“What are the preferences in terms of communication styles?” Vitaska mused. “We try to tailor our strategies and tactics based on the literature. We also go to our patient experience surveys and try to have conversations with our patients in terms of the effectiveness of the surveys. We recalibrate based on the feedback we get from there.”

As providers face calls to improve patient care and outcomes, they should consider all tools available to them, Vitaska concluded. In leveraging patient education technology, Centura is well on their way to achieving those goals, he said, making chronic disease management easier for the patient.

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