Friday, April 16, 2010

The Empowered Patient

More and more people who live with chronic conditions are becoming actively involved in high-stake health care decisions.  Professor James Burroughs of the University of Virginia designed a brilliant survey to identify traits and habits of people who feel empowered to take a lead role in managing his or her health care.

The questions included:
  • Relationships with doctors
  • Treatment history
  • Social habits
  • Need for cognition
  • Self-confidence
  • Media preferences
The survey suggests that people who take a direct role in managing their treatment plan have several traits that other more traditional patients lack.  The survey also discovered what factors don't influence the chances of a person being an empowered patient.  30 percent of the survey was identified as Empowered Patients.

This group likes situations that require a lot of thinking and they like the challenge of solving a problem. These patients were more likely to have a strong sense of self-efficacy, meaning that they were confident in their ability to accomplish almost anything if they decide to do it.

Interestingly, education, income, source of health insurance had almost no effect!

Empowered patients are leading the way online

When asked about personal experiences or seeking out other patients' stories, empowered patients were much more likely to be doing both of these things.  They take a more active role online that traditional patients do. Their tendency to be on the early edge of the social networking curve was much stronger than traditional patients.  Empowered patients preferred a combination of printed patient education materials and web sites over television and magazine ads.  They did not appreciate being talked down to.

Empowered patients still rely on traditional medical authorities to help improve their health, but they're not willing to cede all control.

The obvious question: can the other 70 percent be motivated or influenced to become empowered patients?

Dr. Burroughs and his team of researchers found that 50 percent of the the survey group had many of the same tendencies and personality traits as the empowered patients who fell into the 30 percent group. They could be influenced by appealing to their need to be addressed in a direct, straightforward manner, as opposed to a patronizing approach.  This group is likely to be swayed by social appeals from empowered patients. 

Empowered patients have the potential to be influencers and affect the opinions of traditional patients.

The 20% group did not share any qualities with the other two groups and the researchers suggested it unlikely that they could become motivated to become empowered patients.

Given the lack of available health care dollars now and in the future, it should be the goal of government and industry to empower as many patients as possible.  Empowered people take more personal responsibility for their healthcare and understand that lifestyle decisions matter.

Addendum: While writing this blog piece I kept thinking about Dan Roberts community of empowered AMD patients.  Kudos again to Dan for all he has done to help worldwide AMD patients become more empowered. And Major Kudos to the mdsupport community members who have or will become Empowered Patients.