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Engagement is Good But Activation is Essential

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The terms patient engagement and patient activation are often used interchangeably.  Definitions matter, so I’d like to clarify how we understand and apply these terms for NexJ Connected Wellness.

Our understanding of patient activation is based on the work of Judith Hibbard from the University of Oregon.  She defines patient activation as patients’ understanding of their role in their care and having the knowledge, skills, and confidence to manage their own health and health care.  Patient engagement, as Hibbard defines it, is a broader concept that includes interventions designed to increase patient activation as well as the resulting behaviors such as engaging in regular physical exercise, eating healthier foods, or taking prescribed medications.

Patient activation is a measureable attribute of a person.  Patient engagement encompasses the programs designed to improve that attribute.  Hibbard has designed a well-validated survey, called the Patient Activation Measure (PAM), which scores the level of patient activation.

So, why do we call Connected Wellness a “Patient Activation” platform rather than a “Patient Engagement” platform?  It’s because the term patient engagement is not often used in the way Hibbard defines it.  Instead, patient engagement is oftentimes referred to as either

  • A stakeholder consultation, which is a program used to gather patient input to help healthcare planners improve the services patients receive. Stakeholder consultations that incorporate patient perspectives at the center of care design are of course worthwhile.
  • Patient communications used to define how patients interact with provider institutions through multiple channels like online scheduling, email, patient helplines, etc.

Both stakeholder consultation and patient communications are important and necessary; however, they are not sufficient to improve patients’ skills, knowledge and confidence to manage their own health and health care.

Hibbard’s definition of patient activation recognizes that patients themselves make the vast majority of daily decisions that affect their health and related healthcare costs.  Connected Wellness is designed to help patients and their advocates become more educated about their health conditions, better equipped to collaborate with their providers and communities of support, and more motivated to make lifestyle changes that will have a positive impact on their health, wellness, and wellbeing.  This is aligned with Hibbard’s conception of patient engagement, but it is different than stakeholder consultation and patient communications.

We have decided to call Connected Wellness a patient activation platform because this is the most accurate definition for what it is designed to do; to give patients the education, tools for collaboration, and motivational support that they need to maximize their level of patient activation and allow them to be as well as they can be.