Friday, February 08, 2013 Research Focuses on Engaging Patients in Health Care The February issue of Health Affairs explores the burgeoning field of activating and engaging patients in their health and health care. Studies show that more informed and empowered patients have better health outcomes, and there is some evidence that they also have lower health care costs. One study featured this month found that patients with the lowest level of "activation"—that is, those most lacking in the skills and confidence to be actively engaged in their health care—had average costs that were 8 %-21% higher compared with patients with the highest level of activation. Another article reports on how offering online health care for patients with simple conditions saved money for a prominent Minnesota health plan. Launched in 2010, "virtuwell" provides 24-hour online access, diagnosis, and treatment (including prescriptions) by nurse practitioners for about 40 simple conditions, such as sinus infections, urinary tract infections, and pink eye. Private and public sector leaders also weigh in with their perspectives on strategies to lower health care costs, improve quality, engage patients, and enhance outcomes research.