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The Interrelationship between Patient Empowerment, Health Literacy and Patient Engagement

 
"Knowledge is the piling up of facts; wisdom lies in their simplification" - Martin Fischer

The terms patient empowerment, health literacy and patient engagement which are mantras of healthcare reform can be somewhat confusing because of the variation in definitions based on the user, but when analyzed in their relationship to each other the meanings become clearer. 

Health literacy is a means to an end. Patient empowerment is a process utilizing the means, and patient engagement is the end product of the two. A natural analogy is a tree. Water from rainfall and nutrients in the soil necessary for the tree to grow are equivalent to health literacy. The process of the uptake of water and nutrients through the roots to enable the tree to grow and produce leaves and fruit is analogous to patient empowerment. The actual growth of the tree including the production of leaves and fruit is akin to patient engagement. 

In literal terms, patient engagement is the actual involvement of patients and their health management and healthcare. It might involve sharing and exchanging health information with a doctor over the Internet, instituting lifestyle changes beneficial to health improvement, deciding the best health insurance to apply for, monitoring blood pressure, monitoring blood sugar, notifying one's doctor of any signs or symptoms that might be indicative of a medication adverse reaction or interaction, etc. 

In order to be able to carry out many of the activities of patient engagement it is necessary to have a basic understanding of relevant health information and to know how to use it to make good choices in managing one's health and healthcare, which is the meaning of health literacy. Acquiring a knowledge base of pertinent information is the first step toward achieving proficient health literacy. In order to understand how to apply that information to one's own health, it might be necessary to formulate relevant questions, and then seek additional information which answers those questions.  

Patient empowerment is the actual process which results in increased health literacy. It might consist of reviewing printed health information online, reading health-related books or other publications, listening to health-related audios, watching health-related videos, presenting questions to one's doctor, or other educational activities. The empowered patient is thus, one who has undertaken actions necessary to understand and use health information to make good decisions in the management of his or her overall health and healthcare, and who uses that ability as it is intended.   

If health reform theories are correct, over time, more often than not, the resulting patient engagement becomes a means to an end result of quality improvement in health care and a reduction in healthcare costs. 

This article is for informational purpose only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical consultation with a qualified professional. If you are unsure about your medical condition you should consult a physician. 

Victor E. Battles, M.D. is a board-certified internist with 30 + years of patient contact. Dr. Battles has been a principal investigator in several clinical research trials and is the founder of Proactive Health Outlet, a patient empowerment website for increasing health literacy and promoting patient engagement.

Victor E. Battles, M.D.
October 11, 2013

Source: Proactive Health Outlet

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