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Warming Care, Engaging Patients with Digital


By applying modern digital tools and techniques, healthcare organizations can deliver more empathetic and personalized care, empowering patients to engage in behaviors and follow treatment regiments that improve their well-being, our latest study reveals.

We know what a good health outcome is from the perspectives of payers, clinicians and hospitals. Yet in all the focus on patient-centricity, it’s not clear how patients define a good outcome. The industry can’t truly engage patients without understanding their view of the healthcare system and their perceptions of how they heal. Without that understanding, investments in digital patient engagement are unlikely to yield favorable results.

So with our partner ReD Associates, we studied the phenomenon of healing, delving into the lives of Americans across the country to gain insight into how a person goes through a successful healing process.

How Digital Is Helping People Heal

Our findings indicate that the healthcare industry’s efforts to engage patients are not terribly effective because they are based on an array of faulty assumptions about how patients heal. These are the key misconceptions we uncovered, juxtaposed with patient realities:

  • The current system measures healing by numbers; patients measure healing by their abilities.

  • The industry tries to optimize medical health measures; patients care about their quality of life.

  • Expert health prescriptions are the norm; patients instead rely on their peers’ experiences for individualized guidance.

  • The industry has invested in mapping linear patient journeys; patients, however, take steps forward and back as they heal.

  • The prevailing wisdom is that it’s better to ask patients to do less; our research shows patients and caregivers will go to great effort to minimize illness.

  • The industry has put a premium on using electronic medical records/electronic health records (EMRs/EHRs) to capture full medical histories; patients want assistance in telling the human story behind their medical information.

  • The industry focuses on telling patients exactly what to do; patients instead need to go through a process of trial and error to find what works for them.

  • The industry treats conditions instead of individuals; patients can follow treatment plans exactly and yet not feel like they are healing.

  • The current system focuses on patients as the sole agents of medical adherence; however, healing does not occur in isolation and is an evolving process that involves many relationships.

In sum, we characterize most U.S. healthcare delivery as coming from a cold system. It is designed to optimize efficiencies and reduce the risk that patients make mistakes in treatment. Yet this cold system makes it harder for patients to heal, in part by pushing them away from the practices that help them manage their care.

Warming Patient Engagement with Digital

Our study demonstrates that when patients get warm care, they are more likely to engage in successful behavior change and adhere to treatment. This points to a huge opportunity for digital patient engagement. Digital is uniquely positioned to enable warm care with individualized, adaptive, empathetic and scalable support. 

Unfortunately, much investment in digital tools and techniques has been designed to reinforce the cold system of care. Instead, digital solutions and initiatives must be designed to align with patients’ experience of healing. That means apps, platforms, tools and devices must be able to:

  • Help patients establish and track goals that are meaningful to them vs. the medical numbers important to the industry.

  • Enable patients to engage with their “care ecosystem,” that is, other patients with their condition, caregivers, family members, etc., vs. treating the patient in isolation, and help them fit treatment into their daily life.

  • Guide patients through an active process of trial and error, providing contextual follow-up care that helps patients problem-solve so they can discover how to be adherent, rather than just being told exactly what to do.

By adapting these principles as they design engagement initiatives, healthcare and life sciences companies can minimize the effects of a cold system that often leaves patients overwhelmed and disempowered. Our research suggests healthcare organizations that engage and empower patients with digital that warms care by supporting their self-management techniques will build stronger patient relationships, improve outcomes and reduce costs. Helping patients heal according to their own measures will thus help the industry achieve success by its own metrics as well.

Learn more about the families we followed and our study methodology in our white paper “Helping People Heal” or visit the healthcare section of our website.

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Warming Care, Engaging Patients with Digital