The Role of Motivation in Patient Engagement

As Dave Chase @chasedave recently stated The most important medical instrument is communication, and Patient Engagement is the Blockbuster ‘drug’ of the century. The idea is that by engaging patients to become more proactively involved in the management of their own health, better outcomes can be achieved, and generally at a lower cost to the healthcare system (compared to expensive tests, procedures and medicines).

New technologies make it easier to engage patients – for example via online portals, health apps, personal electronic health records, portable monitoring devices or a clever combination of these tools within a new care model. Clearly, when the generation of texting, tweeting, vining, instagraming twenty-year olds turns fifty and start their decent into chronic illness, resistance to digital, mobile, sharable health tracking and communications technology will no longer be an issue.

Remains the issue of motivation. The people who continue to supersize their burgers and fries, do they lack awareness of the health impacts of excess weight? The schizophrenic who skips her pill because it makes her head feel fuzzy, has she not been educated on the dangers of messing with her medication regimen? Will improved communication with a healthcare provider convince my uncle to stop smoking?

Yes, there are those who suffer from inertia, who are uncertain about the right way forward or who find it hard to fit taking care of themselves into their busy days. These patients will find it helpful to be supplied with tools and supportive healthcare providers who make it easier for them to look after their own health. These patients are the low-hanging fruit for the new care models.

And then there are other people. People who will not download the app. Who will not sign up for the e-newsletter. Who do not want to be called by their pharmacy to remind them to refill their prescription. Some people will continue to do dangerous, unhealthy things because they want to. It makes them feel good, at least momentarily. Some do not want to face the realities of getting older, of their failing bodies, loss of beauty and loss of agility. Some are comfortable with the thought that this is all inevitable, and do not feel inclined to take action. Some are looking to their doctor for the quick fix, just make it go away, I don’t want to bother with it.

PtEngageUSED

Motivating people is a tricky business and tech tools are only going to do part of the work. What motivates patients to take care of themselves? Pain? The desire to live longer? A feeling of obligation? Because your mom told you to? Peer pressure? Because it is cool? Fun? Because it makes you look better?

Also, doesn’t motivation change over the course of one’s life? What motivates a twenty-five year old to track his weight loss with a health app and what motivates a seventy-year old to continue his androgen deprivation therapy would likely be very different things. Capturing the Show Me The Way segment of patients with new patient engagement tools will be easy and rewarding. Addressing the Maybe Later and the No Way segments will be much tougher, and cracking the motivation nut will be essential to make it work.