Understanding and outlining a patient’s journey through illness is fundamental to developing effective Patient Support Programs.
Pros and cons of an informed patient
In the past, Patient Support Programs were quite rigid solutions for the mass market, aimed at improving adherence to treatment in passive patients. Today, however, especially with the use of internet, patients are more informed and, consequently, more cautious and critical to treatment. While patient interest in treatment is a good thing, “informed” does not necessarily mean “well-informed”. It is not easy to sort out real and proven information from opinions that are not supported by facts or evidence, or even worse, from fake news that leaves a patient generally feeling misinformed, skeptic and less inclined to adhere to treatment. The new generation of Patient Support Programs have changed course to adapt to “2.0 patients” and include support programs that can be personalised for each individual patient in order to respond to their doubts and uncertainties.
What does the patient really want? Defining patient journey
Integrated Health Care companies, like Domedica, and pharmaceutical companies define moments in which patients need care the most. Consequently, large investments are made in mapping the Patient Journey – how the patient has proceeded through the health care system throughout the different stages of illness – and the needs exhibited in each stage. In order to map a patient’s journey, it is important to get a deep understanding of the patient’s experience before and during their illness (life before diagnosis, first appearance of symptoms, progression of illness, repercussions on family, on profession, etc). A sort of ‘need statistic’ – defining needs and their frequency- must be developed for each stage in order to determine whether pharmacological, care-giving or psychological health care services are necessary in that moment. Emotions must never be underestimated. Patient emotions are a journey within the journey that need to be carefully assessed. A patient that is confused, less receptive or exhibits a tendency towards depression will not easily adhere to treatment.
Clinical records and individuality
The objective of Patient Support Programs is to ensure that the patient has access to treatment, adheres to treatment correctly and continues to adhere throughout each stage of the illness as it progresses. Effectiveness, however, is difficult to measure given that establishing standards in treatment adherence is almost impossible. Different illnesses create different needs and different patient journeys. Even when the stages of a specific illness are identical, each patient is different and may exhibit physical or emotional responses that differ from another patient. For example, a patient with asthma or hypertension doesn’t normally have physical or emotional issues that affect adherence while a patient with multiple sclerosis finds adherence to treatment quite challenging. Adherence to treatment can be improved by defining a specific strategy to encourage lifestyle changes and by monitoring the frequency of treatment. Encouraging lifestyle changes, however, requires specific knowledge about each individual patient. The amount of free time a patient has, what their hobbies are and what motivates them help primary care providers to understand and assess what and how changes need to be made. Thus, the success of Patient Support Programs not only depends on the patient, but the patient’s primary care providers.
Empathy, the key to success
The true key to success of Patient Support Programs is thus a profound knowledge of the patient and the patient’s needs. Primary care providers must be capable of empathising, understanding the patient’s emotional and physical needs and prioritising those needs within the structure that revolves around the patient. In this way, not only is the care of individual patients made more effective, but statistical data is produced that is useful in achieving more accurate accounts of Patient Journeys.
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