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Motivating patients to care about their own health

Posted Jan 27 2012 11:44am

Friday, January 27th, 2012

By Lowell C. Kruse
Former CEO, Heartland Health

Getting patients to become actively engaged in their own healthcare takes work and it does not always come easy, but it is essential if we are going to take quality care to the next level.

Some are actually studying how to get patients more engaged. According to a recent report, for almost two years, Fairview Health Services , with more than 40 primary care clinics in the Minneapolis area, has been giving patients a survey developed by researchers  to measure how actively involved they are in their healthcare. Known as the Patient Activation Measure, the survey asks patients to respond to statements like, “I know what my prescribed medications do,” and “I am confident that I can maintain lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.”

Establishing a partnership between the patient and caregivers should be a given. I often ask myself, “Why would it take a whole industry so long to decide to do something that seems so common sense?” We need to spend more time educating patients on how to manage their chronic diseases and how to care for themselves once they leave our hospitals. You do this by asking them questions and surveying them. This information helps doctors and nurses understand what support patients need to make changes in their lives and to hopefully prevent readmissions.

Fairview works with its staff on ways to motivate patients to take action and responsibility. Clinicians learn to encourage and respect different patient involvement levels by allowing them to come up with their own solutions to wellness issues, an approach that is showing promise.

We should be putting the same time and effort into patient education and follow-up as we do for researching the best surgery protocols. If patients are engaged earlier, chances are they will avoid high medical costs in the future and be healthier overall. Isn’t that our goal?

We are a society that responds well to incentives. So if it takes a financial incentive to prompt patients to take action, I am all for it. I ran into a friend the other day who lost a significant amount of weight. I asked her how she was able to do it so quickly. She enthusiastically told me about her new diet and exercise routine and then she added that her company is paying her $35 a month through reduced insurance premiums for her efforts.

So there you have it.

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