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Supporting Patient Engagement Through Digital Health Literacy

November 6, 2023

Technology definitely plays a crucial role in today's healthcare landscape, and this manifests in the many reliable online tools and resources that let us access and be more proactive with our own health and nutrition. The convenience that comes with platforms such as telemedicine apps or patient portals is the intersection of healthcare and the digital revolution. However, not everyone is equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to understand what's best for their health or to make informed and empowered decisions on it.

In this article, we talked about patient engagement, digital health literacy, and the many challenges these fields face with Dr. Maida Affan, a healthcare marketing and communications professional with experience in clinical and wellness content marketing and digital strategies. This discussion tackles topics like how to increase patient engagement, how to improve health outcomes, and how to enhance patient-provider collaboration in the realm of digital healthcare.

These are among the topics that were discussed in the podcast:

Getting to Know Dr. Maida Affan

Dr. Maida Affan has a diverse background in working across interdisciplinary sectors such as health education, advocacy, digital health, telemedicine, EMRs, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, health-tech startups, wellness, and healthcare consumer goods. She has collaborated with healthcare startups and has helped them strengthen their positioning in a highly competitive market by planning and implementing effective marketing and outreach processes in the digital landscape. She creates powerful content and comes up with data-driven strategies touching upon various digital touchpoints.

Dr. Maida's efforts aim to improve access and visibility for patient engagement and digital health by bridging the communication gap between the consumer and provider. She places much value on convenience and empathy at the core of her strategies. Dr. Maida is also a podcast host, an organizer of virtual events in the digital health space, and a networking enthusiast. As she puts it, "I'm eager to forge meaningful partnerships and alliances and would be happy to have a 1:1 with anyone who's interested."

Supporting Patient Engagement Through Digital Health Literacy

Dr. Maida and the Caring Support podcast team talk about the biggest challenges that affect patient engagement in healthcare, the divide between past generations and digital natives, and the ways that healthcare adapts to newer channels of engagement. They also discuss the healthcare organizations that support patient engagement as well as the strategies for promoting digital health literacy and patient empowerment.

The Biggest Challenges that Affect Patient Engagement in Healthcare

Patient engagement is referred to as the enabling and empowering of patients to access and apply relevant health information to improve their own health. When patients are more engaged, involved, aware, and knowledgeable about their health conditions, they make more informed health decisions and share a better relationship with their healthcare providers.

When it comes to challenges, these can be categorized into two parts: there are patient challenges, and there are provider challenges as well. Some of the main challenges from the patient's side are confusion and resistance to change, with the latter being a huge fear of the unknown because of being accustomed to doing things a certain way. It has been observed through time that symptom management, like wound care and rehabilitation, as well as mental health therapy, have always been face-to-face: an outpatient appointment or a hospital admission.

But now because of digital advancements, it's been established that these appointments can be taken care of at home. Management, monitoring, and treatment at home of sicknesses reduce the influx of patients at the hospital and ultimately help the already burdened health care system. However, the providers might now be faced with the issue of communicating back to the patients and letting them know that this setup works. Providers must now be trying to gain the trust of their patients and alleviate their confusion.

To do this, patients should be aware of telemedicine. It wouldn't suffice if primary care providers from community clinics were just telling patients to call them or contact them. It's mainly about the confusion patients experience through digital pathways, which boils down to poor digital health literacy. It was argued that digital health and patient engagement are at the forefront of research, policy, and public health - it's about making the population at large healthier.

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Past Generations VS Digital Natives

There's a need to identify gaps between past generations and digital natives, understand that it's a huge problem, and learn how it affects the entire healthcare ecosystem. The solution presented was that there must be an alignment of appropriate and relevant stakeholders - older physician cohorts must be taught how to be more digital tech-savvy, while younger clinicians must take some administrative work out of their plates, as most of them experience burnout while also being pressed for time.

It was also mentioned in a survey of over 100 doctors and executives in a healthcare organization that the biggest problem they're facing is a gap in health communication and supply chain optimization. Providers at the top were then suggested to be more perceptive and receptive to clinicians and patients based on their outcomes and come together to address their major concerns.

There were five As of patient engagement that were mentioned, which serve as a framework of patient engagement, which can easily be applied through digital clinical pathways:

The five As of patient engagement

The five As are all done digitally so that the patient doesn't have to keep on going back and forth for physical visits. Through a patient portal in patient-accessible charts, patient information is stored securely. All of this information is communicated to and from the clinician or the provider through digital means. Once the doctor or the clinician has all that information, they're in a better position to assess the data and be ready for a follow-up visit, either virtually or in person. This process aims to be smoother and more convenient than otherwise traditional setups.

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The Ways Healthcare Adapts to Newer Channels of Engagement

It was mentioned that there's a lot of concern around financial benefits and around an ROI (return on investment), but Dr. Maida's argument was that we must leverage the same technology for better patient communication. There have been studies and reports showing that people and organization agents are willing to invest in health care technology that's directly related to patient care, but they're not willing to invest in patient communication or engagement tools.

Regarding ROIs, studies do show that there's a financial benefit to it. Dr. Maida claimed that there's a visible ROI, as physicians were able to make $20,000 per year per physician. There was also an increase of $20,000 per year per physician, and a 20% increase in the patient influx to the healthcare organization because of better patient engagement. The patients claimed to have felt more involved, and there was trust that was developed with particular organizations.

A healthcare worker using technology while performing their duty.

Dr. Maida suggests that if there are infrastructures in place and if the foundation is laid down, better results will follow. When it comes to the clinical outcomes of patient engagement, it shows that patients are more involved, there's a reduced cost of care, and there's improved self-management. When patients feel more confident and more in control, they're more likely to follow the doctor's orders, adhere to their medication, and go to their follow-ups on time. In the long term, hospital admissions will inevitably be reduced, and the burden on the healthcare economy will be lifted.

Dr. Maida's team at Xeven Solutions emphasizes patient communication - they see the need to understand that the means or the mode of communication, the means of marketing, and the needs of receiving and providing care have all changed because of digitization. She argues that the digital content we consume in a day may total up to 6 hours and this overwhelming amount could be why patients want bite-size, digestible, relevant, and personalized information that incites them to take action.

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The Healthcare Organizations that Support Patient Engagement

Fundamentally speaking, it's key for Dr. Maida to avoid assuming things, and always opt to communicate. She strongly suggests empathizing - healthcare professionals must put themselves in the shoes of patients. Dr. Maida goes on to show her observation that more people must be more mindful and aware of what they would do if they were in someone's position, and what they would want to know. She encourages genuine care, curiosity, empathy, and compassion.

Meanwhile, another point that was raised was there should be more value placed on the patients and on working towards health equity. This was said to connect with the notion of the consumerization of healthcare because patients were said to have not been treated as consumers. However, now is said to be the time to treat them as consumers and incentivize health care. Dr. Maida adds that all the other industries are incentivizing their products, so the healthcare industry has to follow suit and work on health equity.

A piece of advice given by Dr. Maida was that patients have to be given need-to-know information instead of nice-to-know information. It was raised that more and more healthcare experts are realizing this, and this urgency must be relayed to the decision-makers, who will then add clinicians, add people from the healthcare background, and other key individuals to the decision-making table. Dr. Maida posits that if a tool made for patients must be created, it would only make sense to have the same patients on board.

The Strategies for Promoting Digital Health Literacy and Patient Empowerment

Dr. Maida suggests that the first thing that has to be done is to meet the patients where they are. In the digital age, most of the patients are online. Upon feeling backache or headaches in the morning, the first thing that people do nowadays is go to Google. The symptoms of a person's headache are the target information to be gathered instead of calling a doctor. Today's digital age has caused most of us to adopt this type of behaviour.

When meeting patients where they are, professionals are expected to have their bases covered. Dr. Maida claims that digital technology is an enabler and it can empower everyone, especially patients. This tells us that it's essential to be on relevant channels like social media - TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and X (formerly Twitter) - or to have a decent website with all the necessary information.

A Google My Business for your local community could also be useful as some sort of community presence because people want consistency when it comes to initiatives and actions. Depending on what your goals, your objectives and your marketing strategies are, you can start to narrow down and focus on your messaging or narrative, as well as how you would want to communicate and relate to your audience.

In summary, information must be made concise, must be need-to-know instead of nice-to-know, and must be fact-checked or at least have some supporting reference from reliable and authoritative sources. Dr. Maida adds that if there's a regulation that you have to abide by which prevents you from advertising your core product or service, you can still become a hub of trust and resource for health information that patients across generations can turn to.

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Join the Patient Empowerment Movement with Caring Support

Patients should be empowered because this enables them to take control of their own healthcare journey. By providing patients with access to a wide range of options like clinical and medical educational tools, telehealth programs, online healthcare appointments, and other patient engagement initiatives like fora, symposia, seminars, and e-meetings, they acquire the right knowledge and tools necessary to make informed decisions about their health.

Through Caring Support, you can browse through a diverse pool of professionals, read comprehensive profiles, and secure your dream healthcare job in no time. We partake in the digital revolution by trailblazing in a fully digital healthcare employment process. Caring Support also fosters a sense of accountability among healthcare providers as they are encouraged to maintain high standards in order to hire qualified and highly skilled workers. By empowering healthcare professionals, we shift the balance of power which ultimately results in higher quality care and improved patient outcomes.

Create an account at Caring Support today. If you already have an account, you may log in here.

About The Author
Kate Piamonte
Content Writer

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