NHS England announced this week a pilot scheme testing a new approach to draw patients with long-term conditions (LTC) further into the design of and involvement in their own care, in the hope of boosting outcomes and cutting costs.

Around 150,000 patients in England are to be assessed by a new tool - known as patient activation - which measures their knowledge, skills and confidence in managing their own health, and shows the areas in which they particularly need support. 

The move comes on the back of a report by health think tank The King's Fund, which found that patient activation can be used to reduce health inequalities and deliver improved outcomes, better quality care and lower costs.

The paper concluded that patient activation is actually a better predictor of health outcomes than socio-demographic factors such as age and ethnicity.

This is because people who are more 'activated' are significantly more likely to attend screenings, check-ups and immunisations, adopt positive health behaviours and have clinical indicators in the normal range, while patients less 'activated' are "significantly less likely to prepare questions for a medical visit, know about treatment guidelines or be persistent in clarifying advice", the report notes.

Cost benefit

On the financial side, less-activated patients have costs approximately 8% higher than more-activated patients in the baseline year, and 21% higher in the subsequent year, it said, highlighting the potential monetary gains from greater engagement.

And given that studies show that those who start with the lowest activation scores tend to boost their scores by the most, it seems that effective interventions could help "engage even the most disengaged", providing a significant opportunity to improve patient health and care.

Martin McShane, NHS England’s Director for Long-Term Conditions, says he is very excited about patient activation. 

"It’s about understanding that when talking to patients that there are two experts in the room – one with individual experience, the other with medical expertise. This pilot will bring together the best of both, putting patients at the heart of their consultation," he noted.

The pilot scheme is being launched in partnership with The King’s Fund, The Health Foundation, five clinical commissioning groups and The Renal Registry.