With Stage 2 and Stage 3 of meaningful use stressing patient engagement more than ever, and accountable care payments hinging on how responsible patients can be about their own health, getting people involved on a larger scale is crucial for the success of any provider, big or small. But physicians and hospitals continue to struggle with ways to make patient portals and mHealth apps more than a marketing gimmick. How can you make sure that your patients are doing more than logging in once before forgetting all about your online suite? By bringing useful, interesting, effective tools to the patient in a way that’s intuitive, comfortable, and familiar.
“The reality is that a lot of the frustration hospitals have had with patient engagement is the way that they’re relying on a web-based portal to do a lot of it,” Matt Mattox, VP of Products and Marketing at Axial Exchange, explained to EHRintelligence. “I think the reality is that many of the people who are charged with keeping tabs on everything from pain management to creating a health record are rarely at a desk. They don’t use the laptop or the desktop computer. So I think that’s been a blind spot for a lot of web-based strategies. Hospitals see a lot more engagement with the content and the tools just by having it available on smartphones.”
“My advice to health systems is to make sure that you’re meeting patients where they are, which is offering mobile access to your portal. You kind of have to do that if you want to succeed. The second thing is not to just look at the meaningful use requirement as an end in itself, but as an opportunity to rethink the digital connection with the patient.”
That digital connection could be the difference between a patient having a safe and smooth recovery or landing back in the hospital, a situation that costs the facility time, resources, and even significant penalties from Medicare. mHealth tools that compliment a patient’s daily routine, such as Bluetooth-connected pill bottles and smartphone apps that provide reminders or identify pills, can help increase medication adherence, and apps that incorporating gaming elements have been shown to pull consumers in and keep them there.
Portals that only focus on the paperwork side of visiting the doctor miss the point, Mattox says. “If you’re talking about an administrative task like requesting an appointment or a refill, or just pulling down a read-only view of the health record, then yeah, those are problems that portals can solve. That’s not the big picture, though. The big picture is that people want to be well. Right now, precious few portals really do that.”
How do we make portals and other tools better? “First and foremost, things should be organized around the patient,” he suggests. “A lot of things are organized around who owns the EHR right now, and that shouldn’t be the case. Also, ideally we would allow for a broader sense of a care community to include caregivers and family members that you as the patient can provision access to. The long-term vision should include information and tools that enable a patient to manage whatever their health goal is.”
“If I have diabetes, then the tools that support my condition would include glucose management, and would help me understand what my A1C1 values mean, and help me navigate the nuances of nutrition management. That should be the case not just for diabetes but for all conditions. I think that’s the angle that a lot of enlightened health systems are really striving for.”