What is patient activation?

Encouraging and ensuring patients can manage their health successfully is a key component in fine tuning NHS services

As a doctor, finding a patient who asks all the right questions, listens to what you tell them and gives you confidence that they will follow and carry out your advice, can be a rather rare find. Despite relaying the necessary information in as clear and concise a manner as possible, fully engaging your patient can be tricky as they may skip their prescription or miss appointments. However, high on health agendas is getting patients to take a greater role in managing their conditions – but how can this be done?

This is where patient activation comes in. Patient activation is when a patient has the knowledge, skills and confidence in themselves to manage their own health and care, so using this idea as a tool enables healthcare providers to see where their patients stand on a scale of high to low engagement, and how this can impact their treatment.

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High activation levels pay

Patients with high levels of activation are said to be more likely to adopt a healthy lifestyle, have better clinical outcomes and on the whole, report higher levels of satisfaction. On the other hand, low levels of activation could lead to more A&E visits, with an increased rate of hospital admittance or re-admittance. Interestingly, patient activation can also be used as good indicator of health service costs – for example, numerous hospitals visits for low level patient activation is undoubtedly going to cost the NHS more than patients who have a high level of activation.

25% – 40% of the population however have low levels of activation, which affects the quality of their health since they generally lack the skills, knowledge or confidence to use existing healthcare services efficiently, meaning they won’t sufficiently reap the benefits that the NHS can provide.

Patient activation and your healthcare services

Although the UK is showing increasing interest in adopting patient activation methods, it is currently more popular in US healthcare services, as commissioners are using it to assess the capabilities of patients so that they can optimise healthcare provision. Therefore, staff can then tailor the services and advice they provide to give the patient the specific support that they require to manage their condition successfully, and monitor their own improvements. With the patient activation system in place, healthcare could be a much more person centred process for illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic diseases.

Patient activation is an interesting route forward for healthcare, as it demonstrates that one size does not necessarily fit all, aiming to eliminate assumptions about a patient’s abilities to engage with their conditions. Patient activation can provide a mechanism to help understand patients better and suggest more personal improvements to their healthcare based on how a patient interacts with their illness.

Do you feel patient activation could work well within the NHS?