- Patient engagement is increasing in importance in the healthcare industry, with several initiatives requiring patient access to health information and other patient engagement functionalities such meaningful use and accountable care organizations. However, creating a genuine connection with a patient and then getting him to engage with his care outside of the doctor’s office can often present quite a challenge.
How are industry professionals tackling this problem, and what are the best emerging methods for increasing patient engagement with health IT?
Here’s a look back at some lesson learned in interviews with healthcare professionals and subject-matter experts.
Optimize patient portals
Utilizing patient portals on EHR systems is one of the clearest and most common ways to increase patient engagement. In providing patients access to their personal health information, they immediately become a partner in their healthcare and become empowered in maintaining their overall health.
However, it is important not to let patient portal use become too prescriptive and to avoid a box-checking approach, said Chief Design Officer at Story+Structure Shaun Gummere during an interview with EHRIntelligence.com.
“When I think about a patient portal as it’s currently conceived, it’s an afterthought that arises from checklist requirements,” Gummere said. “When I think of an electronic engagement with your provider, it is much more about the question of ‘why?’”
With that in mind, physicians should still seek out the most effective features of an EHR patient portal. According to an interview with Naveen Rao from Chilmark Research, those features are numerous and include mobile health tools, longitudinal patient health records, and health information exchange (HIE) capabilities.
Leverage secure direct messaging
Secure direct messaging is an important part of communicating with patients outside of the physician’s office, but according to experts it is seriously underutilized. Experts say using secure messages or secure emails could make great strides in engaging with patients and encouraging them to play a greater role in their healthcare.
Rao explained that secure messaging is the key to keeping up with patients outside of appointments.
“Are you actually sending messages to patients between visits?” Rao said. “If someone comes in with lower back pain, you send them home with a pill and you never follow up… when it comes to advanced models of care, we can use email to do a lot. If the doctor isn’t doing simple things like sending a follow-up, then what’s the point of having this technology in the first place?”
Secure direct messaging helps patient engagement go a step further and actually influences the quality of care patients receive. Because a physician and patient are able to communicate openly and securely about specific issues regarding an ailment, the eventual care will be more specific to the patient’s condition and will most likely yield better results.
Utilize mobile and wearable technology
The use of mobile technology eliminates any gaps in care and patient engagement that might arise due to access to other technologies. For example, not every patient has regular access to a computer connected to the internet; however, a majority of patients nowadays do have a smartphone.
Such is the case in Miami, according to Senior Vice President and CIO of Miami Children’s Hospital Ed Martinez. Martinez explained that surveys show that not everyone in their patient population has access to a computer, but all of Miami uses a smartphone. Therefore, mobile technology should be better utilized for patient engagement, and providers shouldn’t be so reliant on computer-based web applications.
“Institutions that are savvy enough to keep their portals afloat but spend their resources on making more of an investment in the mobile space are going to come out on top. And consumers are going to reward those facilities because they are going to want to be associated with them more than those who don't provide those types of services,” Martinez told EHRIntelligence.com.
Wearable technology is also an important aspect of patient engagement as it closes gaps in data collection. Physicians are able to get a fuller idea of a patient’s overall health by gaining access to data collected on a wearable device, such as a fitness band.
Gummere is an advocate for this approach, explaining that wearable devices alleviate pressure from both the patient and the physician.
“Healthcare practitioners need accurate data. Asking the patient to be an administrator is often extremely difficult,” Gummere said. “If you look at wearables to be your supplement and supporter to deliver that data. It’s almost like you have your own assistant.”
Reconsider your approach
It is not enough to simply present patients with these kinds of technologies. According to Senior Director of Clinical Applications at Inland Northwest Health Services Marcia Cheadle, RN, it is critical to create a human connection with patients to enhance the use of technology.
In an August webcast with EHRIntelligence.com, Cheadle explained that creating partnerships with patients is the best way to facilitate a comfortable environment and to encourage the use of patient portals. This could also bring a new element to team-based decision-making by letting the patient in on the care team.
“By having more patient involvement, that activation of the patients in their care journey, their longitudinal healthcare journey, we’re really looking to leave behind that unilateral decision-making, that white coat paralysis that happens to all of us when go in to see the doctor,” Cheadle said.
Specifically, providers should take the time to explain the process of using a patient portal or mobile application, and also contextualize the purposes and times when patients to use them. For example, Cheadle explained an opportunity in the emergency department where should could reinforce the use of patient portals.
“What if instead I said to the patient as they leave the emergency room in my discharge process, ‘hey, let me show you where your information is on your portal.’ What would that look like?” Cheadle said.
As federal programs such as meaningful use continue to call for required patient engagement capabilities, physicians will continue trying to tackle the issue of delivering impactful, engaging care. On that same note, health IT professionals and EHR vendors must continue to work around not only patient needs, but physician needs as well to create the best possible technology to deliver high patient engagement.