There’s a growing trend emerging that the old way of paternalistic, one-way, doctor-driven care is changing as patients themselves are changing. We are discovering that today’s ePatient is more informed about his or her condition, utilizing wearable technology, and viewing care as a continuous series of events as opposed to episodic. These patients are heavily researched before they even step into a physician’s office, with many now capturing their health data and actively managing their conditions.
The term of ePatient was first coined by Dr. Tom Ferguson, and he defined them as individuals who are equipped, enabled, empowered, and engaged in their healthcare. Dr. Ferguson was incredibly prescient because this rigorous patient participation has rapidly expanded beyond the early days of simple internet skimming to the broad channel use of today that includes consulting blogs, forums, social networks, smartphone applications, and other emerging resources. While these empowered patients are clearly more educated coming into the office, there is still a great opportunity for healthcare providers to drive education and health literacy to the patient.
THE GROWING PREVALENCE OF WEARABLES
In tandem, the empowered patient is also more likely to be utilizing wearables. There are already 500 million wearable devices in use and analysts predict that 250 million devices will ship per year by 2021. As this wearable market greatly expands, the Fitbits and Apple Watches of today will continue to evolve into future devices that will become smaller, smarter, and integrated into shirts, socks, and patches—even into the realm of implantables. Most importantly for healthcare considerations, these wearables are presenting an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to empower patients while providing real-time data to physicians. Wearables are already improving drug research and development, assisting with clinical trials, elevating patient engagement, improving adherence, and providing information to better inform outcomes data.
ePatients are an industry focus on patient activation. Policy efforts like the Affordable Care Act are beginning to emphasize shared decision-making, wellness, and self-management as we shift to this more patient-centric system of care. A number of pioneering healthcare systems are beginning to embrace tools like the Patient Activation Measure (PAM). Activation is defined as having the knowledge, skill, and confidence to manage one’s healthcare. This PAM survey tool consists of 13 statements assessing patient understanding of their condition, then quantifies against four levels of activation from more passive states to the more progressive. Studies are already showing that patient activation is associated with better health outcomes, healthier behaviors, and lower costs. Not surprisingly, the more activated patient is more likely to exhibit better health behaviors and utilize preventative care.
APPLICABILITY TO MEDICAL EDUCATION
So the challenge—and opportunity, as we see it—will be in providing solutions that help healthcare providers navigate the myriad of platforms and massive data streams while providing next-generation education tools to improve that healthcare-patient dialogue.
Our agency is already delivering on campaigns that assist the activated patient through solutions like healthcare provider coaching videos for direct-to-patient education, where the goal is to assist the activated patient in navigating discussions on challenging health topics. We also believe there’s an opportunity for wearable clinical context education specifically tailored to inform healthcare providers how to interpret data from multiple wearable platforms. We also see an opportunity to bring forth education that helps healthcare providers incorporate solutions like PAM into their patient engagement strategies. (Experts from the American Medical Group Association are already recommending deploying PAM during patient onboarding.) Finally, there’s a growing opportunity for medical education agencies to provide additional intel and healthcare provider point of view to proactive brands that will need to consider the evolution of the patient journey, as these shared-decision touchpoints will naturally influence how those look in the future.
Integrating with the ePatient will be of critical importance to healthcare providers and the agencies that serve them in the years to come.