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Patient Engagement by the Numbers: 5 Principles for Making Sense of Medical Complexity

The overall increase in the number of medical specialists and complex medical procedures, as well as the abundance of tests and test reports that have become more widely available over the last 20 years, are positive developments in providing better and more comprehensive health care. However, there has not been a commensurate improvement in basic patient education practices, which is leaving many patients ill-informed, less able to understand the system and treatment options, and therefore unable to take the most appropriate action in a timely manner. In fact, given the increasing level of medical complexity and treatment options, one can argue that patients are now less informed and less educated than ever before.

One inescapable fact that drives the problems surrounding health literacy is a general low level of reading skills across the broad population. This is no excuse for healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies! Clearly, the responsibility for excellent (read: clear, concise, and uncomplicated) patient communications ultimately rests squarely on industry partners’ shoulders, and there are some basic principles that can be applied to drive better engagement, leading to improved results.

InstitueHealth.LiteracySource: Institute for Health: Facts About Health Literacy


With that in mind, what are the key ways that industry partners can simplify information to ensure patients of all literacy levels can access and utilize the information they receive to improve their health and well-being?

Visual Literacy for Understandable Patient Records
The age of highly visual formats like those seen in USA Today and shared on sites like Pinterest is here to stay. As we consume content across the Web and mobile platforms, key principles of design have become established that center on “chunking up” information into visually appealing boxes and supporting those visuals with short text statements that drive the key points home and communicate clear calls to action.

So far, health care is falling far behind this standard, as is evident in the example from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) seen below. It looks more like a random printout than a record of your health that could be used to make smart health decisions, drive changes, and deliver future well-being.

status-quoSource: Health Design Challenge

This ongoing challenge and opportunity remains, although it is not for a lack of effort from a dedicated digital community.  Many people are working on this challenge and each of us has an opportunity to contribute.  One case in point is the recent Health Design Challenge, which asked people to redesign a standard patient record. Below is the Best Overall Design – 1st Place example, provided here as food for thought.  It is clear, concise, and uncomplicated, which are the three principles of enhanced patient communication mentioned in the opening paragraphs.

NightingaleSource: Health Design Challenge – Nightingale

If you are interested in exploring this topic further, you could look back to December 2010, when Wired Magazine published elegantly redesigned standard results for three common test batteries. Of course, there are numerous other examples of how certain healthcare providers are taking health literacy seriously, so the challenge we face does not require additional research—rather, we need to focus on implementation.

Follow-up Patient Education via Mobile
Ah, the lowly text message. How soon we forget, in this increasingly more complex world with increasing numbers of ways to communicate and keep in touch, that the lowly text message is still ubiquitous. It remains one of the easiest, cheapest, and fastest ways to communicate across mobile devices, yet texting continues to be underutilized by the healthcare community. This may be because it seems “old-fashioned” already! While texting may be an older form of communication, consider this data from Pew Internet Research, Cell Phone Activities 2013, Sep 19, 2013 by Maeve Duggan:

Pew Internet releases new stats about what people use their mobile phones for:
• 91% of American adults own a cell phone
• 81% of cell phone owners send or receive text messages
• 60% of cell phone owners access the Internet
• 52% send or receive e-mail

Yes, that’s right. Far more people use their mobile phones to send and receive text messages than to access the Internet or to send/receive e-mail. This remains a valuable channel of short, simple communications. It could be used for medication and appointment reminders, and is a platform the healthcare community needs to continue to consider.

Connect Online With Rich Media
If you are reading this post, the chances are good that you have watched a video on YouTube this week. In fact, you have probably watched one today. This platform has exploded in recent years as a way to showcase everything and anything that happens in people’s lives. The healthcare community has taken note and some key players have made impressive collections of short videos available to a wide range of audiences, including healthcare professionals, patients, caregivers, and general information seekers. In the healthcare professional arena, Boston Scientific does a particularly nice job, providing 122 videos on the Boston Scientific Endoscopy Channel.

BoSciYoutubeThese videos are a mix of professional education and compelling patient testimonials, which enable a wide range of users to access easily digestible content specific to their needs in real time.  This therapy area specific content supports a wide range of additional videos on the Boston Scientific YouTube Channel.  Merck also has a strong channel presence, with 50 videos neatly categorized into therapy areas to help the health care information seeker find the most appropriate content quickly and easily (http://www.youtube.com/user/Merck).  Video is a platform that enables clear, concise descriptions of complex topics. Utilizing this media, as well as a full complement of additional channels, will support learning across the broadest range of potential customers.

Personalized Information Interventions for High-Risk Patients
Complex patients, who drive a large portion of healthcare costs, and who also have low levels of health literacy, need to be proactively approached in a new and different way. As this patient population grows, educating these patients in the “usual” way will not return the improvements in quality of healthcare that will be required to meet the objectives of the Affordable Care Act. New and improved patient education tools, delivered through the preferred channels, will also enable caregivers to more easily do their part to support better patient outcomes. These patients are relatively easy to identify and, because they cost the system such a disproportionally high amount of resources, it becomes cost effective to develop and provide specific programs tailored to these individuals.

Provide Multi-cultural, Multi-generational Approaches
As the US market continues to grow more diverse, with both an aging population and a growing multi-cultural population, it will enhance the need for more diverse patient education. This is not only a matter of language translation—which is important—but also taking into account how various cultures use media channels and identify with authority figures.

 map_65plusSource: CensusScope
  PopDistSource: Washington Post
 

Conclusion:
Historically, the healthcare industry has taken a mainstream approach to patient education and hasn’t taken specific care to tailor materials to specific audiences.  Paying closer attention to health literacy levels and changing population demographics, and addressing these challenges through more targeted patient education programs that deliver clear, concise, and uncomplicated information is the pivotal key challenge for healthcare marketers in 2014. The relative return on this investment could be significant, both in terms of improved patient outcomes and better adherence/compliance to prescribed healthcare regimens.

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Gabrielle Pastore

Gabrielle Pastore

Vice President, Global Strategic Commercial Innovation at Cadient Group
As VP of Commercial Innovation, Gabrielle leads Cadient's efforts to help life science companies optimize the performance of their brands and marketing operations. Leveraging digital technology and other tools for fostering innovation, she and her team will create business strategies that deliver results-oriented planning, best-in-class customer insights, and productive new approaches to global marketing and brand commercialization. Gabrielle joined Cadient from AstraZeneca, where she built a 18-year management career spanning a broad range of responsibilities. Most recently, she served as global director of commercial innovation, leading enterprise-wide digital marketing initiatives in Japan. Prior to that, she was brand director for managed markets in the U.S., guiding major brands through key life cycle events and creating a large cross-functional team to address issues such as access and reimbursement. From 2005 to 2010, Gabrielle acquired substantial global innovation experience, working as global brand manager for AstraZeneca UK, then as marketing director for AstraZeneca Japan. She began her pharmaceutical career in product management, working also as a district sales manager before moving into brand management. Gabrielle holds both a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business Management and a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science from North Carolina State University.

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