Do patients want to be empowered or managed?

by Toni Bigby

Lately there has been a lot of conversation around patient empowerment – an ambiguous term, but one that is fodder for many conversations across the health care industry. Patient empowerment – to put it simply – is about providing the necessary tools and information to a patient so that he or she can take a more active and involved position in his or her health care.

It seems common sense – people want to control their own destiny. But the debate is whether people really want to be empowered when it comes to their health care and what empowerment really means. Would people rather take direction and be ushered through the health care system or do they want to find their own information and formulate their own options for care?

The answers to these questions would have a profound impact on how health plans engage with their members.

They want to be empowered

If the answer is that patients want to be empowered, then you have to look at the kinds of tools and information being provided. You may consider introducing more online applications that let people manage their eating habits or exercise regime. You may introduce materials that help patients better engage with his or her doctor – like a “Top Ten Questions to Ask the Doc” brochure. Or perhaps you publish more information about formularies and how different drugs react with one another so the patient can be more acutely aware of how his or her body will react to certain prescriptions.

They want to be managed

If the answer is that people don’t want to take a proactive role in their health care, and instead would rather be managed through the system, then this introduces a whole other operational philosophy. If this is the answer, then you may want to hire more case workers and nurse-hotline employees.

A system of greater follow-up with patients would be a good element to introduce – like doctors or case managers calling a patient after a prescription is filled to make sure they understand the instructions of use. Materials could be introduced around when to see your doctor, and what tests or procedures are important based on life stage. A more concerted effort to getting patients in to see the doctor more regularly is another strategy that may result.

Health care reform thinks empowerment

It’s obvious through the health care laws that our leadership believes people want to be empowered. It’s why policies like covering some preventive care procedures or allowing a woman to see her OB/GYN without needing a pre-authorization from her PCP are now in place.

But the question is still a perplexing one that needs to be answered. So we are out in the field right now asking about this very thing. Do people want to be empowered to address their health care needs, or do people want the system to better manage how and when we access it?

Toni Bigby is Director, Consumer Advocacy at CareSource.

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