Patients with the knowledge and motivation to manage their own health care not only get better outcomes, they also don’t rack up bills as high as those of their less-engaged peers, a new study suggests.

Researchers looked at patients with high and low “activation,” a scale of how engaged they were in their health care. The costs of the most-engaged patients were between 8 and 21 percent less than those at the other end of the spectrum.

For instance, patients with high cholesterol and the lowest activation scores had costs 12 percent higher than those who were the most engaged. The difference was 21 percent for asthma patients.

The study looked at data from more than 33,000 patients in 2010 in a Minnesota health system.

As health reform measures put more onus on patients to be engaged in their care, the researchers recommend that health systems consider assessing patients’ level of competence and providing them with more support. The move, they say, could both improve outcomes and contain costs.

Two articles appearing in the February issue of the journal Health Affairs discuss the research. The study was led by Judith Hibbard, a professor emerita at the University of Oregon.

— Heidi Hagemeier, The Bulletin