Woman talking with her doctor.

How Being an ‘Activated’ Patient Can Improve Your Health

In the old days, patients expected doctors to determine their health goals and their treatment plans. Those days are gone. And that’s a good thing. Recent research shows that so-called “activated patients,” sometimes called “engaged patients,” have better health outcomes and care experiences.

Actually, the term “activated patient” isn’t all that new. It dates back to the 1990s when the Chronic Care Model was first introduced. The model is a widely adopted approach to improve the management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, and reduce health care costs. Activated patients play a key role in managing their chronic conditions. Our Patient-Centered Medical Home program grew out of such an approach.

What do we mean by an “activated patient”? An activated patient is one who has the willingness and the ability to take meaningful actions to manage their health and care. The Patient Activation Measure, or PAM, can be used to gauge a person’s self-concept as a manager of his or her health and health care.

Traits of an activated patient

According to a research article published in HealthAffairs, the following are some characteristics of highly activated patients:

  • More likely to engage in preventive behavior, such as having regular check-ups.
  • More likely to engage in healthy behavior, such as getting regular exercise.
  • More likely to avoid risky behavior, such as smoking.

In addition, highly activated patients are two or more times as likely as those with low activation levels to prepare questions for a visit to their doctor, to know about treatment guidelines for their condition and to seek out appropriate health information.

Chronically ill patients with higher activation levels are more likely to adhere to treatment plans, perform regular self-monitoring at home and obtain regular chronic care, such as foot exams for diabetes.

Risks of being a less activated patient

By contrast, less activated patients are three times as likely to have unmet medical needs and twice as likely to delay medical care. This can result in poorer health outcomes and costlier health care down the road.

Tips for being an activated patient

So how can you become a highly activated patient? Here are some quick tips:

  1. Seek out a primary care doctor you feel comfortable partnering with on your health care journey. We recommend you select a PCMH-designated doctor. You can find a PCMH doctor by using our Find a Doctor search tool on bcbsm.com.
  2. Know your personal and family medical history so you can share it with your doctor at your visit. Also, bring a list of medications with dosage information (or your medication bottles) to your appointment.
  3. Come prepared for medical visits with questions for your doctor. For example: Why are you ordering this test? How often have you treated this condition? Take notes so you can remember the answers later.
  4. Sign in to the patient portal to access your medical records if your doctor or hospital has this option. The more you know about what’s in your record, the better you can participate in your care.
  5. Take advantage of preventive health services that are available with no cost sharing, such as an annual exam. Use that visit to discuss your health goals, medication list and any health problems you’re experiencing.
  6. Do some research if you’ve been diagnosed with a disease or chronic condition, particularly if your doctor recommends tests or invasive procedures. We recommend you check out Choosing Wisely, an initiative that seeks to advance a national dialogue on avoiding unnecessary medical tests, treatments and procedures.
  7. Get to know the choices available to you when you need care for a non-emergency situation. While your primary doctor is usually the best line of defense, there are other options available when the doctor’s office is closed or you can’t make it in. These include the 24-Hour Nurse Line, Blue Cross Online VisitsSM, retail health clinics or urgent care centers. Check out our Choices for Care site for more details. Also, your PCMH doctor may have an after-hours number to call or may be able to provide advice on choosing urgent care options.
  8. Know the cost of your care. There are many resources available these days to help you shop for care. For example, the Blue Distinction® Specialty Care program can help you identify high-quality, cost-efficient care for several specialty areas, including maternity care and bariatric surgery. For more details, visit the Blue Distinction Center Finder.

By becoming a more activated patient, you essentially become an integral part of your own care team and a good steward of health care resources. You’ll not only have better health outcomes, but your overall care experiences should be enhanced.

About the author: S. George Kipa, M.D., is deputy chief medical officer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

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Photo credit: jacoblund

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