What’s An Activated Patient, Anyway?

Dear House Rules,

I do my best to keep up with the most current terms in pharmaceutical marketing so that I can best position my brand, but recently, I heard a colleague use the term “activated patient.” I’ve heard of the “engaged” patient, but what does this one mean? Is it the same thing?


Thought I’d heard it all

Dear Heard It All:

Think of patient activation as the next evolution of patient engagement. The passive patient simply observes the messages being presented. The engaged patient truly connects with those messages. The activated patient, as the name implies, acts upon them. Patient activation is defined by the journal Health Affairs as “understanding one’s role in the care process, and having the knowledge, skills, and confidence to take on that role.” Unsurprisingly, this activation almost always leads to improved outcomes.

How do we as marketers help develop more engaged and activated patients? One easy shortcut is to assess each communication tactic in light of the “Four Ls,” defined below:

  • Location: “Meeting patients where they are.” The significant growth of communications across multiple platforms and devices contributes to that. It is this part of the formula of which patients are most aware, regardless of whether they’re in the doctor’s office, at the pharmacy, or at home.
  • Literacy: As hospital stays grow ever shorter, more and more pressure is put on patients and caregivers to understand the details of medical tasks—pressure that can be daunting. Started in Oklahoma and now spreading across the country, the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act requires hospitals to identify caregivers and also to provide clear instruction on how to perform each medical task needed. This act is complemented by the FDA’s newly-strengthened guidance on non-technical language to be used when communicating risk. The takeaway for pharma companies? Talk to patients like they talk to each other.
  • Leeway: Patients thrive of “shared decision-making” in which they feel like participants in the process of determining their care. Many HCPs aren’t used to this, so it’s up to us as marketers to help them understand that fully informed and committed patients are more adherent to the therapy they prescribe. We can provide decision aids in the form of a variety of tactics that give patients important information on the risks, benefits, and likely experiences with different treatment options.
  • Listening: More and more healthcare companies are conducting surveys to assess consumer input on various healthcare experiences, information which provides a wealth of insight for marketers. It’s up to us to put that information to work for us as we continually seek to improve our communication tactics to patients.

All of these elements contribute to creating the “activated patient.” As an industry, we already do much of what’s needed to improve patient outcomes and lower costs. By staying attuned to our Location, Literacy, Leeway, and Listening, we can develop more active (and healthier) patients. Focusing on patient activation requires partnering with a firm who understands the short- and long-term benefits of this important strategy. At Xavier Creative House, we can help.

About Xavier Creative House

Founded in 2013, Xavier Creative House (XCH) is an award-winning healthcare creative agency specializing in pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device. XCH’s global team of brand builders and healthcare marketers, tech-savvy go-getters, and innovative dream-vetters are passionate about the big idea that changes behavior in the healthcare marketplace. They believe life is about connections and that healthcare is about life. That is why XCH delivers bold and evocative creative solutions, amplified by meaningful technology, to energize brands and authentically connect with patients and HCPs.

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For more information, contact

Sunny White
Founder & CEO of Xavier Creative House