By Dennis A. Robbins, Ph.D, MPH
Creativity & Transformation Officer
Better engagement is the key to getting people actively involved in their own health. Better engagement also helps people learn to better navigate the healthcare system. This, in turn, can help them make more informed, meaningful and astute choices. To maximize this process we need to shift our thinking about engagement from the passive, subservient patient to focusing on engaging and activating the “person” to pursue a healthier trajectory.
“Persons” make choices and changes consistent with what is perceived to be of value, important, or meaningful to them. We need to create strategies that give people information, support, and encouragement. This will help them to embrace changes that will make a healthy difference in their lives.
Sustainable engagement does and will not happen magically or easily. Our decades-entrenched tourniquets and temporary fixes while initially designed to change the trajectory of lifestyle-related diseases and their associated mortality are now failing us. This is exacerbated by how complex it is to navigate the healthcare landscape with agility and ease. For this, technology can be an immense resource.
Engagement is not a one size fits all solution for patients. Persons, not patients, initiate change, so we need to shift our focus from changing the patient to supporting the person. Each person is different, so different ways to help nudge and engage and support him or her need to be available and deployed. Strategy is not dictated by populations, sex, race, ethnicity, size, or shape alone. The real trick is to sustain and transform an extrinsic motivation into an intrinsic one that creates a lifestyle change. In essence this is about adding years to our lives and life to our years!
Adopting a person-centric approach profoundly transforms how all our decisions (including those that are health-related) are made and who has the authority and ability to make them in a way that is consistent with our values, priorities, preferences, beliefs, and aspirations in the context of our broader life experiences.
Today, most individual solutions are fragmentary and still rely on very expensive and time consuming human-to-human interaction. This approach is simply not scalable to the need, especially considering, listing just one example, the estimated 120,000,000 people in the U.S. with pre-diabetes and diabetes.
The goal is for a health-oriented lifestyle to replace the current disease-focused approach and for the person to be the key participant in his or her own health outcomes. It is now possible for each person to have his or her own health coach that’s always there to offer customized advice on diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes in a dynamic fashion in order to reverse decades of poor choices by presenting evidence based facts.
Studies have found that a virtual discharge nurse reduced hospital readmissions at the 30-day mark by 30%. In fact, 74% of participants in a hospital pilot-study said they would rather interact with an intelligent virtual assistant than an actual human being. In relation to behavior, a study of antipsychotic medication adherence showed an increase to 89% adherence with a virtual health assistant, versus the historic rate of 50%.
The technology is available, the knowledge is there, but do we have the will to step out into a new approach that will move us from healthcare to health? Time will tell. But, if my hunch is right, those companies that pioneer extending this technology to the masses will benefit financially for years to come. And remember. It’s all about the person.