How NPs Can Encourage Patients to Better Manage Their Health

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There is growing emphasis being placed on improving health outcomes through encouraging patients to become more involved in their own care. While these people may not have medical degrees — or really any background in health care — an increasing amount of literature suggests that when patients play are active in managing their health, outcomes are improved and costs decrease. Some patients are hesitant to play a more active role, which can be a result of multiple causes, such as a lack of confidence in their own decision-making abilities or education, an inability to follow through with medications and lifestyle changes back at home or simply a disinterest in the details of their care.

As a nurse practitioner (NP), you can play an important role in encouraging patients to manage their health more effectively, even if they show little inclination to do so on their own. These simple steps will help you to equip the people you treat to become more involved in their own care.

Increase engagement

If you want to encourage your patients to play a more active role in managing their health, the first step is to increase their overall engagement. To accomplish this outcome, the author of an article in Becker’s Hospital Review recommends starting by demonstrating value to the people in the area in which you work, both by yourself and as an NP, and in a combined effort with your health care facility. Patients need to know that they can trust not only you but also whatever organization or office you work for. When the members of your community know that the care facility where you work is a trusted resource for health, they will be more likely to come in, as well as to take your advice seriously and pay attention to your suggestions. Demonstrating value to the community will build trust with your patients, who will in turn be more willing to engage with someone who they feel is reliable.

Once that relationship is built, you can assist patients in managing their care through health IT strategies, such as patient portals, to increase both communication and engagement. By providing a place where the people you care for can see all their records, test results and upcoming appointment information, it will be easier for them to keep track of these important details and, consequently, will pay more attention to their care. A 2015 study published in the journal Health Affairs reported that increased patient engagement was shown to improve nine different health outcomes and additionally decrease overall costs.

Promote use of mobile apps

Your patients may not always be with you or another health care provider, but it is likely they are rarely without their phone. Mobile apps present a new and unique opportunity for health care providers to gain greater insight into the lives of their patients outside of appointments. Having patients track their vitals and other information at home to increase the information available to the care team is not the only advantage of encouraging app use. According to Digitas Health, patients are more likely to follow their provider’s advice outside of appointments when using mobile health — or mHealth — tools. The organization reported that mHealth use encouraged patients to be more proactive about their health, as well.

Despite the benefits of mobile apps, patients will not always take the initiative to use the tools on their own. App use is strongly influenced by a patient’s provider, which means that as an NP, you have an important role to play in helping your patient take advantage of these resources. It may be helpful for you to go through the app with your patients while they are still in the office, especially if they are older and may not be familiar with using apps on their phones. Patients who to try to figure out the tool on their own at home may become frustrated and not use it regularly, if at all, which will severely limit any impact it could have on their health.

Empower decision-making

Encourage patients to manage their health effectively and empower patients’ decision-making. You need to give them information to help them make wise decisions. Without adequate information, patients will be hesitant to make their own choices when it comes to their care — and rightly so. If they do not feel confident making decisions, they are less likely to be actively engaged overall.

The first step for an NP is to look for ways to increase education efforts. In addition to explaining test results, medication instructions and other information clearly during appointments, consider having printed resources on hand to send home with your patients after appointments. Having the details in a patient portal also can help, but some less tech-savvy patients may be more comfortable with a physical piece of paper that lists all the important information. It is easy for people to become overwhelmed during appointments, especially when complicated medical terms and drug names are used, so having something tangible will not only help them to remember the details but also make them more confident that they understand what is going on.

Sharing information, such as test results and medical histories, also will empower your patients to be more involved in their own care. Taking advantage of new health technology like electronic health records, patient portals and mHealth strategies will allow your patients to access all their health information in a single place, which will help them to stay updated on their care and become more involved in the process. The people who you care for will likely feel much more confident making decisions about their health when they know that they have all the information right at their fingertips.