What Patients Want Healthcare Providers to Teach Them

November 10, 2018
Allison Hart
Allison Hart

Here is the one surprising thing that improves patients’ ability to effectively manage their own health.

Patients who are trying to manage complex chronic health conditions sometimes feel like they are driving without directions. They know where they want to go, but they don’t have a clear understanding of how to get there.

One thing that improves patients’ ability to effectively manage their own health is an awareness of their own personal health metrics and goals. Unfortunately, a lot of patients don’t know what their current health numbers are, nor do they know what their numbers should be. When patients are not knowledgeable about the difference between a systolic or a diastolic number, don’t know which numbers represent “good” versus “bad” cholesterol, or are uncertain what an acceptable range for their blood sugar is, guidance from healthcare providers is essential. To help patients understand health metrics and how they impact health outcomes, healthcare teams can support them with a combination of email and text communications and health monitoring surveys.

According to a West survey of 1,036 adults and 317 healthcare providers in the U.S., more than one in four patients with a chronic condition (27%) feel their healthcare team does not do enough to help them understand what their health metrics are and should be.

Related article: Five Communication Strategies Managed Care Organizations Can Prioritize for Improved Chronic Care

As a result, 96% of patients say healthcare providers need to make a greater ongoing efforts to help patients understand their health metrics and manage their health. Having conversations during face-to-face appointments is a good first step-however, those brief discussions rarely cover everything patients need to know about managing their health. To increase patients’ knowledge of health metrics and keep them on track with goals, it is important that healthcare teams communicate with patients in-between appointments.  

Healthcare providers can support patients between appointments by sending them relevant messages related to their conditions and health readings. These messages can include information to educate patients about health metrics, invitations to complete health monitoring surveys and health maintenance reminders.

Health metric information

Teams can leverage the patient engagement technology they currently use for appointment reminders to send patients informational text messages and emails. For example, sending patients with diabetes messages containing health metric and disease management information empowers them to take actions to improve their health outcomes. Specifically, providers might send these patients a series of emails that educates them on blood glucose, such as the ideal target range, factors that impact its level, how to use a device to measure it, and tips for managing.

In many cases, diabetes can be managed successfully. But the condition is much more difficult to control when patients do not know their actual and target blood glucose levels. Considering West’s survey found that more than one in five patients with diabetes (23%) think their healthcare provider does a poor job communicating about health metrics, patients are likely to welcome messages from providers that share health metric information.

Health monitoring surveys

Patients are looking for more than information about health metrics-they also want providers to deliver monitoring and health management assistance outside of appointments. Surveys make it easy for healthcare teams to remotely monitor patients and take action if health readings indicate problems.

For example, if a provider wants to monitor a patient with diabetes, he or she can invite the patient to complete an online survey and self-report blood glucose readings, blood pressure, or other metrics. The provider can compare survey responses over time to see if health readings indicate the patient is at risk.

Many chronic patients say they would appreciate it if their healthcare provider used automated survey check-ins to monitor health indicators like weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Patients say they are willing to complete survey check-ins and report up-to-date health information to providers. In fact, West’s survey showed that patients with congestive heart failure (51%), diabetes (42%), and obesity (42%) are eager to participate in survey check-ins that send health data to their providers.

More than nine in 10 providers (91%) agree that having patients complete remote health monitoring surveys is useful. Yet, many providers admit they are not taking advantage of surveys to capture health metrics and monitor patients’ progress. Only seven percent of providers use automated surveys to monitor metrics and support chronic disease management. In many cases, healthcare teams have opportunities to do more to help monitor health readings.

Health maintenance reminders

Sending health maintenance reminder messages is one more way healthcare teams can use patient engagement communications to help patients manage their health. When providers send encouraging messages to remind patients to do something simple like take a blood pressure reading at home, it can drive patients to follow through with health maintenance actions. For example, a provider can send diabetic patients text messages to remind them about weight loss goals, ensure they know their target weight, encourage them to get 30 minutes of daily physical activity, and eat balanced meals. By engaging patients with text reminder messages, healthcare teams can nudge them to take steps that will help them stay on course with health goals.

When patients fail to understand and track health metrics it makes managing chronic conditions much more difficult. Patients who are uninformed about health metrics may be at risk for severe health issues and not even realize it. On the other hand, when patients know their current health metrics, understand what they mean and know the ideal range they need to stay within to maintain good health, patients can manage their health more successfully and see better health outcomes. Targeted communications can help educate patients about health metrics, support them with monitoring, and keep them on course with health maintenance. 

Allison Hart is vice president of marketing for TeleVox Solutions at West, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.