The Patient Engagement ‘Nudge’

One of the most influential management books of the last few years has been Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Building on the canon of behavioral economics, the authors describe ways in which simple external “nudges” can positively (and negatively) influence individuals’ behavior, and ultimately lead to societal change.

The lessons of Nudge, especially the role that outside influences play in change, ran through my mind as I read through an article on the “Quantified Self” in a recent Economist. The piece defines the roots of the movement in the belief among a growing group of people that gathering and analyzing data about their everyday activities can help them improve their lives. It goes on to quote Gary Wolf, who coined the term Quantified Self and writes a blog by that same name, as saying that the movement is at the same place the Homebrew Computer Club was 35 years ago, and one day we’ll all self-manage our health and wellness the way these early adopters do today.


Beyond its EHR and practice management functionality, the Hello Health platform includes a dashboard to help people manage remote and wireless monitoring devices like those referenced in the article, and the fans of self-tracking who comprise the quantified self movement will no doubt love this technology. But what about the rest of us?

Whether it’s gym memberships or day trading, only a small percentage of people ever actually change habits and sustain new behaviors on their own, even with really accessible tools. We think this change toward healthier behaviors could be accelerated by a stronger partnership between care providers and individuals, and that patient management models like Hello Health will play a critical role in this transition.

Some would argue that physicians don’t have the time to partner with each patient in the monitoring of data and the selection of care programs that nudge appropriately. Under current models of practice, that’s true, manifested in the gulf between formal healthcare and informal, consumer-led healthcare. But the right application of relationship and engagement technology – combined with inevitable payment reforms that reward wellness and not just procedures – will make this partnership feasible, productive and rewarding for physician and patient alike. It’s a critical component of our patient management system, a mix of in-person, online and self-directed care that builds respect between patient and provider, leading to more patient engagement in health, and the better outcomes we’re all looking for.

So roll on, sleep and exercise trackers, blood sugar tweeters and heartbeat hackers. These innovations are remarkable, but I think must be part of a new and more powerful technology-enabled doctor-patient relationship to truly deliver on their promise of the engaged and motivated patient.

About the Author
Steven Ferguson

Steven Ferguson is the Chief Operating Officer at Hello Health, the complete Cloud-Based EHR, Practice Management System and Patient Portal, that helps practices be more efficient and increase patient engagement.