Consumer Empowerment Education in Healthcare

Friday, March 21st, 2008
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

Actively involving your patients in managing their own healthcare is essential to consumer empowerment. With the help of Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harlan Levine, OptumHealth Care Solutions provides innovative, integrated solutions that supports the best clinical and financial outcomes for both consumers and clients. OptumHealth designs its programs to educate, empower and activate individuals to become better healthcare consumers by helping them identify their healthcare needs, their treatment options and the best physician and facility for their situation based on their preferences and unique needs.

But how does OptumHealth and other such organizations that promote consumer empowerment differ from traditional disease management programs that have been in existence for decades? According to Dr. Levine, OptumHealth’s treatments are “something different.”

“This program is about informed decision making. By engaging the consumer earlier in the decision making and by giving them relevant information that’s highly personalized and delivered in a caring and expert manner, we’re able to bring greater value to the consumer,” explains Dr. Levine. “And because we recognize that everybody’s different and at a different stage in their level of understanding when they receive a diagnosis, we know that in order to bring the most value we need to meet that individual where they are in terms of their own health literacy. We then educate them on their condition and specifically on their stage of their condition by providing information, tools and resources, delivered in consumer-friendly manner, to help them make the best decisions for themselves. By focusing on where they are, both in the decision making process and on the specifics of their condition, we make the communication more relevant to the consumer.”

Moreover, Dr. Levine comments that empowerment does not mean making decisions for the consumers, but to motivate them to engage in positive behaviors, empower them to actively seek and utilize healthcare information, so they truly own and are accountable for their own healthcare decisions.

Also presenting with Dr. Levine was Dr. Stephen Rosenberg, senior vice president of outcomes research with ActiveHealth, a company that promotes evidence-based medicine in the belief that closing gaps in care can prevent avoidable adverse events, which would result in less hospitalizations, less emergency room visits, and ultimately less money spent. Dr. Rosenberg cites health literacy as an important component of consumer empowerment.

“[Health literacy] has to be handled in almost all member communication by pitching written and oral communication to a level that’s reasonable and that’s understandable by the great majority of patients, but that is not so low that it’s condescending in any way and making sure to avoid jargon,” advises Dr. Rosenberg. “It’s a difficult balance to reach,” he notes.

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