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How to Improve Patient Engagement in the Provider Community

By Vera Gruessner

- Patient engagement strategies have been heavily discussed in the media and among the vendor community, but digital participation on both the provider and patient side has been meek at best.

mHealth and telehealth funding

The latest report from Chilmark Research on the patient engagement market shows that the healthcare sector is still participating very minimally in digital communication with patients post-discharge or between visits.

In an interview with EHRIntelligence.com, report author Naveen Rao from Chilmark Research spoke about the potential of patient engagement for bringing broader models of care to the industry. More outreach is especially helpful for patients with chronic conditions or severe illnesses.

“We wanted to find out — what are people actually using today. Not what’s actually being sold but what’s being bought. We wanted to find out from the provider’s perspective, what are the limitations of the tools that are being purchased,” Rao revealed.

“Usually, there’s a feature or two that are dedicated to engagement,” he continued. “So we wanted to look at those features and see whether they are actually working. Are they cutting edge? Are they not?”

READ MORE: Report Highlights Patient Role in Health Data Exchange

Specifically, Rao mentioned the benefits of mobile technology in the healthcare market. While some vendors have mobile-compatible apps, there is very limited device integration in healthcare. The provider side is not much better, as few physicians are utilizing mobile health technology to improve patient engagement. However, mobile health apps could improve administrative aspects of care such as faster scheduling as well as managing post-discharge care.

“If you look at the state of affairs when it comes to mobile tools for the patient in the year 2015, it’s pretty disappointing, particularly on the provider side,” Rao stated. “Providers don’t acknowledge that there’s this really great tool that every one of their patients is leaving the office with. They can and ought to be leveraging [it] a little bit more effectively.”

The most common tool in patient engagement is the patient portal. Some aspects that Rao encourages health IT vendors to include in the patient portal are mobile health tools and the longitudinal patient health record that is connected to their EHR. Additionally, health information exchange (HIE) capabilities that can pull in data from other hospitals across the country would benefit the patient portal greatly.

Patient-generated information and biometric data like blood pressure and diabetes management analytics could also be incorporated into patient portals and EHRs. However, vendors will need to move more quickly to incorporate some of these tools into the patient portal.

“We have the technology to send information and collect it from point A to point B,” Rao mentioned. “It’s not happening. There’s no way to put it [biometric data] into your record. Five or ten years from now, things are going to become more digital. The vendors out there aren’t really with the program.”

READ MORE: MIT Implements Cerner EHR, Population Health Management

The Chilmark Research report focused on how the average providers are lacking effective patient engagement strategies. For providers who haven’t begun incorporating patient portals, Rao said the first step to take is to improve patient-doctor communication. Physicians should speak with their patients to find out their preferred method of contact.

After an appointment, doctors should follow-up with their patients via secure messaging/email, text, or phone call in order to enhance communication. After “mastering these basics,” providers should implement patient portals to improve patient satisfaction.

“There is a lot of capability possible through just a basic patient portal. That’s not exactly the most advanced tool that we have today, but it’s a great starting point,” Rao said. “Providers have the ability with their patient portals to send secure emails. But are they actually doing it?”

“Are you actually sending messages to patients between visits? 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?”

Providers will need to put greater emphasis on patient-doctor communication and follow-up contact in order to improve the quality of healthcare services. Naveen Rao also spoke about the type of health IT tools providers can utilize when gathering population health statistics. These include data management, data analytics, and stratification tools as well as information exchange and registry capabilities. Digital and mobile health applications can also play a lesser role in population health management.

READ MORE: MI Health Systems Implement Epic Healthy Planet Constellation

Rao mentioned that telehealth and mobile technology will have a “big impact” on the healthcare industry in the coming years. He sees it become adopted more broadly in the next three to five years. The most important aspect, though, is to ensure multiple physicians can access the same patient records in real time. Telehealth services will have a strong, transformative influence on rural healthcare as well as patients with weather and geographic limitations.

As a greater shift toward population health management and patient engagement takes place, the healthcare industry will see providers rely more on multiple IT vendors. This is likely because a single vendor rarely is able to offer every single aspect of medical technology. This offers physician practices positive opportunities such as reducing the issues associated with limited EHR systems. However, with all benefits, come some disadvantages like more staff training, higher workload, the costs associated with new systems, and the overall responsibility of working with multiple vendors.

Physicians who are looking to increase patient engagement should consider the following strategic steps. First, find out a patient’s preferred method of contact. Next, partake in the patient activation measure, which essentially means work toward improving patient interest in their medical care and treatment protocols.

Doctors can also improve patient satisfaction by checking in and following up after an appointment. The last step to incorporate is patient-reported outcomes by recording data after receiving secure messages. Physicians looking to improve communication with their patients should consider implementing this patient engagement strategy.

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