by Scott Zimmerman
The future of disease management is all about engagement.
Patients who don’t comply with the disease management plans prescribed by their physicians put their own health at risk. The numbers back it up: Each year in the United States, chronic disease — such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes – cause seven in 10 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But patients who fail to comply with care plans also contribute to rising U.S. healthcare costs. Research by the New England Healthcare Institute, for example, has shown that patients who do not take their medications as prescribed by their doctors cost the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $290 billion in avoidable medical spending every year.
These same patients present complications for healthcare provider practices. As the U.S. healthcare model changes from rewarding for quantity to rewarding for quality, doctors will be hard pressed to deliver positive results when individuals don’t follow care plans. In addition, while healthcare practices aim to provide quality care to all their patients, efficiency can no longer be sacrificed in pursuit of that goal. Yet hard-won efficiencies are compromised when non-compliant patients present with increased complications.
It’s a difficult situation for both parties. A recent study conducted by our team at TeleVox, “A Fragile Nation in Poor Health,” revealed that 15 percent of healthcare professionals are frustrated because patients don’t follow their treatment plans, and just 7 percent feel they are helping patients to successfully become healthier individuals. Three out of four Americans admit they don’t follow treatment plans exactly as prescribed, according to the National Consumers League. They may not get prescriptions filled; they may engage in bad habits, such as smoking or eating unhealthy foods, even after they’ve been diagnosed with a serious condition.
For the good of their patients and their practices, healthcare providers must find ways to get ahead of this challenge. One way is to regularly engage with their patients to provide them the support they need to follow through on care plans. In fact, “A Fragile Nation in Poor Health” found that 42 percent of patients believe they would do a better job if they received encouragements from their doctors between visits to stay on course. More than one-third of those who think they could improve their routine of following doctors’ instructions believe they’d do so if they received reminders about doing something specific, such as taking medication.
That’s all good, but we have a scalability problem. There are simply too many patients, too many things to contact them about and too much reinforcement required for telehealth programs — where nurses personally coach patients to maintain treatment plans — to succeed on their own. And most practices don’t have the resources or the time to supplement such efforts by manually creating emails, voice mails or text messages to remind patients about important health activities. But doing so can make a huge difference.
With the right technology, doctors can support patients for improved compliance rates. Engagement communications automates the process of staying in touch with patients in an authentic, tailored and scalable way through Web, email, phone and SMS. It provides a convenient option for busy practices to help patients change the way they live in the world, reaching them in the manner they prefer. These days, that’s likely to be text messaging: 81 percent of patients in a recent survey say they’d welcome texts from their providers. Simply put, engagement communications remind patients about important information related to their health.
TeleVox, for example, provides a range of services for practices to upload a variety of messages for delivery to patients via email, phone or text. That includes basics, such as appointment reminders, so that patients with chronic conditions who require regular physician attention don’t miss their visits. The opportunities can grow even more sophisticated than that. A nurse practitioner can design various campaigns to reach out to patients who have certain disease conditions, and doctors can select the pre-packaged series of automated reminders and advice that match that patient’s disease profile — and let technology do the rest.
It is possible for providers to respond to the urgent need to keep patients on track with their treatment programs without adding extra burdens on the practice. And given the new age of outcomes-based healthcare reform, it’s imperative for the continued success of healthcare practices.
Originally published on Health Management Technology, December 2012