For patient support programs, activation is important but engagement is key

April 8, 2018 Simona Nucera

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For patient support programs, activation is important but engagement is key

The terms activation and engagement are often used synonymously. However, if patient support services are to truly enable patients to take ownership of healthcare and effectively self-manage their condition, understanding the difference between these two terms is key.

Patient Activation vs. Patient Engagement

Previously, when we outlined the definition of Patient Activation (read here), we saw it was related to the level of knowledge, skills and confidence implicated in the patient managing their health and interactions with the system of care. Activation then focuses on a patient’s level of health literacy and underlines the behavior as a reactive response to the healthcare system.

When we look at the definition of Patient Health Engagement (read here), we see that it includes personal responsibility, involves a patient’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors and as co-producers of their health, takes an active role in the decisions and management of their care.

Taking a much more holistic approach, patient engagement considers the patients’ lives outside the hospital setting, patients’ routine activities in everyday life as well as the role of other actors such as the role of caregivers, peer networks, family and social life.

Improving Healthcare Outcomes in a Real World Environment

If patient support services want to improve patients’ self-management of their treatment to realize better patient outcomes, they must engage the patient and take a more holistic approach.

For example, a patient might be highly activated and dedicated to their health whenever seeing their doctor or staying in hospital and display a high level of knowledge and understanding of their condition. But, once they leave the doctor or hospital, the patient may become sidetracked by other things on their mind. As they lack sufficient support in an everyday setting, they can quickly return to previous unhealthy routines or habits around their condition and inadvertently erode their dedication to remaining active in improving the management of their condition.

A patient might show a high level of activation, but not a very high level of engagement whatsoever.

Request the full Exclusive whitepaper “Understanding Patients’ Health Engagement” which includes:

  • Defining Patient Health Engagement – and understanding the 6 different concepts that are commonly confused
  • The 4 Levels of Patient Health Engagement – how patients move dynamically between each level
  • Meeting Patients’ Shifting Expectations
  • Patient Stories – How to support patients’ needs in relation to their level of engagement


Click here to download the first whitepaper of our Digital Behavioral Change Series “Using Digital Behavioral Change Interventions to Improve Therapy Adherence“