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How is health IT improving approaches to patient engagement?

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

Patient engagement is a popular concept, but it is not at all a new one by any means. Top healthcare organizations have made engaging patients an important aspect of their business for decades. However, the emergence of new technologies and growing influence of patient-centered approaches to care delivery are transforming how efficiently and meaningfully patient engagement takes place.

“The information that we have today is so much more efficient and timely than it was years ago,” says Patrick Ryan, CEO of Press Ganey. “When I say years, we’re just talking five or six years. The availability of the data allows an operator to identify issues and opportunities much more quickly and to implement programs and solutions to achieve their end goals.”

With its acquisition of On The Spot Systems earlier this month, Press Ganey is part of an industry-wide effort in healthcare to integrate patients and their insights into the coordination and delivery of their care. “Every organization is concerned with hearing from patients. With the advent of technology, the opportunity to draw deeper and very specific insights and to do it across the population you serve is really quite incredible,” adds Ryan.

One of those important insights includes how patient engagement can support healthcare reform and improve the cost of care.

“If you look at healthcare reform, in order to cut costs and improve care the patient’s voice has got to be at the forefront of it,” Ryan explains. “When you look at places like the Cleveland Clinic, Scripps, Sharp, etc., that have focused on this patient-centered environment — putting the patient first and looking at ways to coordinate care across the continuum — you see where costs can be taken out of healthcare.”

 

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Based on the experience of leading institutions, the way patient engagement leads to cost savings is through putting the right kind of information in the hands of patients. So why haven’t other healthcare organizations adopted this approach? The answer to that question may come down to a misunderstanding about patients.

“The only reason patients want more care is because they have a lack of information with regard to what their options are,” Ryan continues. “It has been demonstrated many times that when a patient is communicated with aggressively and understand all the various options in order to address that patient’s situation, the majority of the time the patient takes the less expensive path.”

It just so happens that the proliferation of mobile devices and ubiquity of network connections make doing so easier and more efficient, which is evidenced by the amount of patient feedback being delivered to healthcare providers from mobile sources. “We introduced mobile applications last year and it’s our fastest-growing end of the business. The comment and feedback we get from patients through mobile applications is greater than either phone or mail, and what we see across the age and economy spectrum is that we get greater responses,” Ryan reveals.

In order for providers to bridge this communication gap, they first need to understand the effect it can have on their practice. At its core, patient engagement is about improving the health of individuals, a basic belief among clinicians. The movement toward a patient-centric approaches, Ryan claims, should align with the aims of providers “because the majority of providers got into healthcare to make a difference.”

What needs to happen now is for healthcare organizations and providers to understand the role of patient engagement — from surveys to communication — in healthcare reform moving forward. “Everyone recognizes now that we have to achieve the triple aim. It’s a commonly-held mission and the advent of technology gives us greater insights, tools, and efficiency to identify those opportunities and solutions,” says Ryan.

 

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