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Empowering patients is more transformational than you thought (or feared)

By C. Anthony Jones

Patient empowerment has been at or near the top of healthcare organizations’ priorities for years. The logic is straightforward: empowered patients are more engaged in their care, more adherent to physicians’ instructions, make smarter decisions with respect to healthcare utilization and ultimately derive better clinical and financial outcomes.

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While the logic may be straightforward, meaningful patient empowerment remains elusive. The industry correctly points to the substantial improvements in consumer access to medical records and increases in the number of apps and health information resources available online. But in many ways, these improvements represent incremental enablers of patient empowerment, not a true shift from the status quo.

What empowerment is and isn’t

Empowerment is authority or power given to someone to do something. The key point: power is actually transferred from one person (or organization) to another. While healthcare organizations have enthusiastically transferred responsibility and costs to consumers, efforts to transfer decision-making power and the information necessary to make those decisions have been slow, sporadic and at times, disingenuous.

Too often, patient empowerment initiatives wind up as rebranding efforts, designed to mask outdated thinking and approaches. Rather than start from the organization’s core and work outward toward consumers, these initiatives limit their scope to refreshing superficial touch points between the organization and consumers. A "friendlier" logo with rounded edges and vibrant colors or a more pleasant website with images of active people are nice, but are not substitutes for true patient empowerment.

Five transformational shifts required for patient empowerment

If organizations want to reap the benefits of patient empowerment, they need to embrace – not grudgingly accept – the fact that it requires transformational change. As such, these changes need to start at the organization’s core and redefine a host of long-held beliefs and approaches.

1: Acknowledge the lack of muscle memory for consumer service
For healthcare organizations, most of their day-to-day, direct customer transactions are with other large businesses. In this B2B world, these organizations’ structures, operational processes and technology are optimized to support these transactions. Becoming more consumer-centric represents a massive "inside-out" change and requires new thinking that is not currently resident within the organization.
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