By Poornima Venkatesan, senior consultant, Virtusa.
In today’s value-based care environment, patient engagement is a vital key to success in clinical outcomes. This is especially true for chronic diseases such as arthritis, where continuous care is necessary because of the disease’s physical, emotional and economic impact on patients. Although the advent of specialty drugs in the past decade has made disease control possible, clinicians still face challenges in patient care because patients’ preferences about therapy aren’t often considered.
Understanding patient goals and expectations
While a clinician’s goal is to achieve remission, a patient’s goal could be clinical or nonclinical and varies depending on their individual characteristics and demographics.
Patients from low-income countries such as Morocco expect access to primary care (never mind rheumatologists), support services and education about the disease. The high expenses related to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in such countries result in poor treatment compliance, school absenteeism in children and deterioration in quality of life. Comparatively, even with excellent health insurance systems in the United States, one in six adults with RA reduce their medication use because of high out-of-pocket costs. Most patients expect cost-effective care. In wealthier countries like the United Kingdom, patients expect increased social connectedness and family support.
Elderly patients expect reduced pain, fatigue and side effects, whereas young adults expect independence and normalcy from their treatments. Women, who are most affected by RA, might expect a lesser impact on family life and childrearing.
If such multidimensional expectations are not met, patients tend to discontinue their treatment. As new biologics and non-biological complex drugs (NBCDs) are developed, patient adherence is essential in determining both therapeutic and potential adverse effects. Studies reveal that frustration towards the method of drug administration (like self-injection) also impacts adherence. In the U.S alone, the total cost of non-adherence is estimated between $100 billion and $289 billion annually.
Therefore, it is important for the patient and the physician to trust each other and have open discussions about treatment strategies and expectations to ensure better alignment and cooperation.
Measuring patient engagement
The first step towards patient engagement is awareness of their current engagement levels. The patient activation measure (PAM) tool is helpful here. PAM measures the attitude and knowledge of patients about the disease and treatments. Studies have proven that highly activated patients have better outcomes via increased medication adherence, resulting in lower healthcare costs through fewer ED visits, hospital admissions and re-admissions. By continuously monitoring activation levels, providers can measure sustained changes in patient behavior and personalize their care programs.
We can also measure engagement levels by taking advantage of data. Data derived from direct [electronic health records (EHR), claims] and indirect sources (wearables) provide a holistic view of an individual patient. Simple analytics applied to population data can predict patient behavior. For example, analytics can help providers know which patients are likely to miss their appointments, which patients will fill their prescriptions on time, and so on. Detailed patient-based data could also lead to better and more accurate diagnoses and treatments.