An empowered patient means an empowered Europe

Young Europeans are working together to suggest ways to manage health that will result in benefits to citizens and budgets. As more of us take control of our own wellbeing, doctors and pharma need to adapt to support this change.

In the past, healthcare was a product of paternalism: patients accepted their place and were mere passive recipients of the verdict delivered to them by a healthcare professional. This attitude was encouraged through cultural differences and a lack of awareness in the community.

But the internet has changed the way in which patients deal with healthcare information. As adults, most of us have probably experienced patient empowerment at some stage. Let’s say one morning you wake up and notice a weird lump in your throat. What would you do? My first reaction would be to go online, not to call my mum for advice or make a doctor’s appointment. The same goes for you, doesn’t it?

Demographic trends geared towards ageing and the rise of chronic diseases, together with the avalanche of increasing healthcare costs, have spelt change for our healthcare systems. We have an opportunity to rethink our model for treating patients. We have shifted from a disease-centred approach to a more patient-centred approach, with a focus on what the disease means to the patient. There is also a constant push towards customer satisfaction.

Patient empowerment is here. It cannot be denied or buried in some deep corner of our minds for later on. Patients are more and more willing to understand what is happening to them and to take an active role in the management of their own care. Health professionals are also dealing with more informed patients, wanting to have their say about their health, in treatment options and share the decisions that concern them.

“Patient consultations should become smarter, not longer”
Some healthcare professionals may worry that empowered patients will be more demanding, rather than more independent. But partnership with patients needs to be the ‘go-to’ choice, which means that patient consultations should become smarter, not longer.

Patient empowerment and patient-centredness require a complete shift of mindset in the way healthcare is designed and delivered. They also present a challenge to European healthcare systems and require specific strategies that embed meaningful patient involvement at every level in any given healthcare system. Admittedly, this is not an easy task.

But such change is needed and empowered patients are good for healthcare systems in the long run. Empowered patients can take equal responsibility for their care in partnership with health professionals. They can take preventive measures, seek earlier diagnosis and adhere to treatment, all of which can reduce healthcare costs over time.

Patient empowerment contributes to the enhancement of healthcare systems across Europe’s national realities, and patient centricity is the core value in creating sustainable and equitable systems for all.

This is part of the legacy that I, and fellow members of the European Health Parliament (EHP), wish to leave. The EHP is a platform involving 80 young healthcare experts from across the EU who, over the course of nine months, have worked together to push for better European healthcare. We have developed political and practical solutions to this issue and in June 2015, we presented our recommendations to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). We are continuing to push forward with our ideas by sharing them with national health ministers and the broader health community across the 28 EU member states.

We have called for the adoption of a pan-European framework to ensure that patient empowerment is a top priority for Europe’s healthcare systems and that it contributes to improved healthcare across European countries. Achieving patient-centredness is key to the process of creating sustainable and equitable systems for all.

Our research has shown that health-literate individuals tend to have healthier behaviour generally, which leads to them not only feeling healthier, but also living longer and reporting less chronic disease compared with people who are less health literate.

“The right information and resources are fundamental tools for enabling patients”

 

Evidence also suggests that higher literacy levels result in lower healthcare costs. In this regard, we are advocating a concrete action plan on health literacy and information to patients relating to all aspects of health. Although empowerment is much more than education, the right information and resources are fundamental tools for enabling patients to become equal partners in the team that is managing their health.

The informed patient also needs a counterpart: the health professional who creates the right environment to enable patients’ active participation in the decision-making process. There is clearly a need for targeted education of health professionals to build the skillset needed to effectively communicate with empowered patients and to provide advice to less empowered patients on how they can take a more active part in the management of their condition.

This strategy should embed patient involvement at every level of the health system. This involves supporting the active participation of citizens with chronic diseases in their own care, but also in policy-making and in designing future care delivery systems.

This is the future that the European Health Parliament wants to see; an empowered patient for an empowered Europe.

About the author:

Cynthia Bonsignore is the Chair of the European Health Parliament Committee on Patient Empowerment and Centredness. She is of Italian-Belgian dual nationality, lives in Brussels and works at the European Patients’ Forum.

About the European Health Parliament

Launched in November 2014, the European Health Parliament is a platform for 80 young Europeans – aged below 35 – to brainstorm ways to make Europe a healthier place and re-think the European healthcare system. The participants worked in groups to produce recommendations in seven areas: big data, electronic/mobile health, prevention of chronic diseases, the economic dimension of healthcare, patient empowerment and centredness, access to innovative therapies, cross-border health threats. These were published in June 2015.

The initiative is supported by the College of Europe, Google, Janssen, EU40 and Politico.

Disclaimer

The views and opinion expressed in this article reflect the perspective of the European Health Parliament Committee on Patient Empowerment and Centricity collectively. It does not reflect the views of the individual members in the committee or the views of their respective employers or other organisations with which they are affiliated.

Read more on patient centricity:

Obstacles to true patient centricity in Europe