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Patient Empowerment and Healthcare Technology

Posted by Mandy Tomlinson on Thu, Oct 18, 2018 @ 08:23 AM

adult-business-casual-806835In a post from 2015, we reported how important the Internet had become, over the previous decade, in enabling health information to be available to all patients. We also suggested that health technology including symptom checkers are becoming tools used in everyday life. A survey published this week by the University of Phoenix supports this and conveys that patients are utilizing healthcare technology to take control of their health.  The September survey involved 2,006 US adults of whom 1,215 had been a patient within the previous three months and some of the findings were:

  • 86% of respondents stated the more information they can provide about their condition, the better the treatment they will receive from the healthcare professional,
  • 75% said  that they research their condition before a hospital visit,
  • 59% stated that tools such as websites (symptom checkers), online chats and wearables made them feel more empowered about their personal health,
  • 61% said they communicate through an online healthcare portal.

These results show the importance of working in partnership with patients, embracing healthcare technology and encouraging patients to utilize online health information, including symptom checkers, to research their symptoms and conditions.  Patients who feel engaged in their care with their health care professional are more likely to comply with care plans which are mutually agreed.

Healthcare professionals can encourage patient’s use of health technology and research by:

  • Providing patients with reliable resources and credible medical information for researching their conditions and symptoms.  The Isabel Symptom Checker, based on the professional Isabel DDx Generator, allows entering of symptoms in everyday language, which then generates a list of possible diagnoses to discuss with a medical professional. Clicking through the possible diagnoses provides resources to research the diagnoses. This symptom checker even includes a ‘where to now’ function suggesting the best place to seek help for the symptoms they are experiencing, which could be the emergency room, primary care physician, pharmacy, or online consult.  Other resources which can provide credible medical information on suggested diagnoses include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
  • Encouraging patients to discuss their research with you during the exam.  This will provide you with insight into the patient’s experience and allow an open discussion, educating them on their uncertainties and anxieties, as well as any misleading or inaccurate information which may have been collected. In the long term these open and honest conversations will foster trust between you and the patient, and allow a care plan to be developed efficiently.
  • Ensuring your physical exam and history taking involves an open two-way conversation with the patient.  Get to know your patient and their life outside of their current symptoms or the condition they are experiencing.  All too often critical information which will help you make a diagnosis will be contained in finding out more about the patient’s home and work life and other interests.  If a patient feels listened to and comfortable then they will naturally discuss embarrassing symptoms or tell you other things which may be troubling them.  All too often we can get lost in focusing on the patient’s current medical problem when health issues can originate from all aspects of the patient’s lifestyle. Learning more about that lifestyle can hold the key to a successful resolution of their symptoms.

Empowered patients

Knowledge and competence gained through reliable health technology information leads to increased health literacy and the strength and empowerment needed to manage a disease and reduce its impacts on quality of life.  Reliable easily understood information provided by the Isabel Symptom Checker helps towards improved health literacy.  When this knowledge has been gained the health literate patient can then process, appraise and apply the information to their own circumstances.  A health literate patient is empowered and can have a fruitful discussion with their health care provider. During this discussion, remember that the patient is the ‘expert of their illness.’ Each patient has their own disease which is unique to them.  They live with the symptoms and disease day in and day out.  They learn to manage that disease or its symptoms and navigate the health system often with the use of healthcare technology, in order to receive the best care, and ultimately management, of their condition.

Alongside encouraging health technology engagement, The Patient’s Toolkit for Diagnosis, developed by the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine Patient Engagement Committee, can help patients guide their thoughts and formulate their thinking when they are visiting their healthcare professionals with a health concern. The toolkit helps them prepare for their appointment, document their symptoms and organize their medications.  It also provides questions they can ask their healthcare professional to ensure all diagnosis possibilities have been considered for their symptoms.

Encouraging the use of healthcare technology by patients and health care professionals creates a partnership of equals and shared decision making.  The health professional welcomes the patient’s involvement and can assist them with finding reliable health information which can be used collaboratively in a two-way process to resolve the patient’s symptoms. If you would like to know more about healthcare technology and our beliefs, take a look at our website or ask us a question in the comments. If you are interested in the Isabel Symptom Checker, you can try it out using the button below.

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