We promise, this is our last piece on patient empowerment (for now). But this one is a little bit different, this one shows the other side of the coin. As repeatedly outlined in our previous articles, patient empowerment is a complex dynamic process that gives more control to patients and ultimately leads to better health outcomes. It effectively empowers patients and gives them the power to make better choices regarding their health. This is obviously all good for the patient. But what about the other guys? You know, the ones who actually treat the patients. What’s in it for them? Well, believe it or not, healthcare professionals (HCPs) could also benefit from patient empowerment, and you’re about to see why. 

More Literacy Means More Adherence

In our first piece on patient empowerment we spoke about correct and understandable information reaching the patient. Telling the patient what’s wrong in the form of user-friendly information is a pivotal step in the path to enhancing the patient’s health literacy. There is a common misconception that informed patients are troublesome as, in an effort to better understand their health situation, they sometimes give out the impression that they know better than HCPs.

I’ve looked it up online and X website said that I should stay away from this treatment. I know someone who’s doctor told them to not take Y medication. I researched the prescription that you gave me and found out that it has chemicals that can lead to chronic diseases.” 

Yes, some patients will sometimes challenge the doctor’s recommendation and medical professionals tend to be annoyed by such behaviour given the efforts that they have put in to obtain their degrees and the knowledge and experience that they have racked up over the years. But we still think patients should be encouraged to better understand their health, under the guidance of HCPs expertise. This is especially important since patients with low health literacy not only have poorer health status, but they are also less likely to adhere to prescribed treatments, and make less use of preventive services. Simply put, less literacy leads to less patient adherence which results in less patient retention which definitely isn’t good for the healthcare industry. 

Self-Efficacy Leads to More Retention

Moving on from health literacy, another major pillar of patient empowerment is self-efficacy. Generally speaking, self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their capacity to execute behaviors necessary to reach specific goals. In other words, it is when you have the ability to do what is needed to get what you want. In the medical world, it mainly refers to the patient’s autonomous capacity to manage their disease, of course under the right medical guidance. So, if self-efficacy helps the patient to follow through the doctor’s orders, then not only does it empower patients to take better control of their health, but it also leads to more patient adherence. Don’t just take our word for it, this extensive 2017 study confirmed the positive relationship between self-efficacy and adherence. Naturally, more patient adherence promotes more patient retention.

More Power Equals Less Costs

It is therefore settled, patient empowerment results in more patient adherence, hence, more retention. From an economic standpoint, HCPs are primary beneficiaries of more adherence. Yes, patient empowerment might be challenging as it requires building a collaborative doctor-patient relationship and necessitates continuous negotiation between the two. Yet, the cost of non-adherence places a significant burden on healthcare systems. As a matter of fact, empowered, well-informed patients represent an economic benefit to the healthcare industry. A 2013 study performed in Croatia indicated that inadequate health literacy is one of the main cost generators for national healthcare systems. Another recent study conducted in Australia in 2021 also noted that low levels of health literacy have economic ramifications for individuals, employers, and providers of healthcare services. The research is there, patient empowerment leads to positive outcomes for patients and HCPs, everybody wins. 

To sum up this entire piece in a few simple words: more patient empowerment leads to more patient adherence and retention which produces more economic benefit for the healthcare industry. More power to the patient = less costs for healthcare.