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Patient activation – why all the hype?

The largest UK digital health show, EHI Live, has been taking place in Birmingham over the last few days. With over 4,000 health care professionals focusing on how digital technology can help the health sector it was set to be a buzzword bingo extravaganza. ‘Tech solutions’; ‘patient-centred’ and ‘information revolution’ came up, but the term that we noticed the most was ‘patient activation’.

Patient activation as a term is growing in usage across the healthcare environment. In its simplest form it is giving patients the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage their own health care.

The utopia of patient activation is a world where we believe we are part of our own health care team, we’ve learnt new skills and are adopting new behaviours where we take control of our own health management alongside the professionals.

Helen Rowntree, Head of Digital Services at NHS England, linked the kinds of digital interactions with patient activation (see diagram below) into her talk on the digitally enabled patient and it demonstrates how patient activation moves from consuming information through to having the ability to manage your own data.

Patient activation graphic

Tim Kelsey, National Director for Patients and Information at NHS England, spoke of the 6.6 million people registered to use NHS digital services in the UK, and how in doing so, these people are becoming participants in their own health care. The market has taken notice too – there are over 3,000 mobile health apps available to help consumers take charge of their own health from everything ranging from exercise to mental health support.

Patient activation isn’t specifically linked to digital literacy, nor is there a proven correlation yet, but it’s not surprising that with the growth in use of digital applications in the health sector that the lack of digital literacy is a concern.

These services help activate patients. However, as a number of speakers highlighted yesterday, there are currently nine million people who do not use the internet in the UK, and many of these simply do not have adequate access to 3G or wifi networks.

There is a risk that the more patient activation is delivered through digital services, the bigger the health inequality gap could become as it pushes those out who are on the edges of modern society. It was reassuring that NHS England see this as their responsibility to help fix – with schemes such as the Widening Digital Participation programme and the pledge to get wifi into all NHS estates, there is acknowledgement that this is something to be solved and can be helped through NHS intervention.

The power of digital services in facilitating the patient activation model was clearly on display at EHI this week. There is still some way to go before it can be accessible to all, but that shouldn’t take away from some of the brilliant work that is going on to support us in taking control of our own well being.

Some great examples of this are:

–       Baby Buddy – helping new mums through pregnancy and into the early stages of parenthood

–       uMotif – helping to manage long term conditions via an online monitoring tool

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