Patient Empowerment: The Healthcare Solution of 2017
For most of the history of medicine, researchers and physicians have strived to improve techniques and technologies to improve patient outcomes. New drugs, new equipment, new procedures, and more are taught to healthcare professionals around the world in the hopes that patients live longer, fuller lives.
Yet, even as the healthcare industry progresses, more and more studies are finding that modern failings of western medicine are not primarily the faults of health care professionals – rather, it is the patients who are not properly caring for themselves. As a result, many healthcare institutions are striving to empower their patients to further improve outcomes, even after patients return to normal life. In fact, empowered patients are swiftly becoming the most important healthcare shift of the decade. Yet, before patient empowerment can be an effective tool, patients and professionals alike must understand how and why it works.
What Does an Empowered Patient Look Like?
The noun “patient” usually calls to mind the image of sickness and pain – a person with ashen skin, limp hair, and tired eyes, connected to all sorts of flashing monitors and fluid-filled tubes. Patients are rarely imagined outside healthcare settings, since once patients get well, they tend to stop being labeled “patients.”
However, patient empowerment strives to change that stereotype. Instead of illness, exhaustion, and immobility, healthcare professionals around the world are striving to give patients health and strength both inside healthcare facilities and throughout their regular lives. Empowered patients are happy, healthy, and confident in their health solutions.
When empowered patients are confused or concerned about their health, they do not hesitate to consult a professional. What’s more, they are unafraid of asking questions, demanding evidence, and performing their own research as necessary to obtain the best quality healthcare possible. However, patient empowerment isn’t a trait – it is a skill patients learn from their healthcare providers.
How Does a Healthcare Facility Empower Patients?
Though some of the responsibility of empowerment rests on the shoulders of patients, healthcare facilities can do much to encourage empowerment. Empowered patients need resources to feel in-control, such as trustworthy doctors and nurses, reliable health information, and convenient health services.
Many facilities around the country are turning to healthcare software that connects patients to healthcare professionals through smart devices. Equipped with educational apps on their phones and computers, patients are more likely to be informed regarding their health regimens and thus more likely to become and remain healthy.
The strong push toward patient empowerment is causing many experts to predict that empowerment will drive innovation in the field of medical technology. Largely, this will manifest as smarter medical devices, such as pacemakers that track data in a smartphone app and provide suggestions for diet, exercise, and sleep habits. However, it is vital for healthcare providers as well as med tech developers to communicate with patients to determine what they want and need to ease their healthcare burden.
When resources are available to patients, healthcare facilities can begin encouraging patients to become empowered. Doctors and nurses should see patients as partners in healthcare, not subordinates, since patients are more responsible for their well-being than healthcare professionals are. Healthcare professionals should show patients how to use available resources, such as researching diagnoses and understanding treatment plans, to teach patients how to be proactive in their healthcare. With some practice, any patient can become empowered.
What Benefits Does Empowerment Give Patients?
For patients, the benefits of becoming empowered include living longer, fuller, healthier lives. Patients who are active in their healthcare are almost 20 percent less likely to experience medical errors – which could be the third leading cause of death in the U.S. – and are about 15 percent less likely to lose confidence in the healthcare system. The certainty that comes with education and engagement keeps patients alive and active.
These reasons alone should be enough for healthcare professionals to accept patient empowerment as an important step in the future of healthcare, but there are additional boons that empowerment brings to healthcare facilities. For example, empowered patients are about 13 percent less likely to return to a hospital within 30 days after discharge, which frees space and resources for more serious cases.
Plus, empowered patients are also 13 percent less likely to have a disorganized history of medical care, meaning they are more likely to coordinate their providers. Doctors and nurses armed with a definite health plan are more likely to make beneficial health decisions for a patient’s future.