Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

What digital access is needed for true patient engagement?

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

Not only is patient engagement an important component of Stage 2 Meaningful Use, but it is also an integral part of healthcare reform by empowering patients to take an active role in their care. The challenge for healthcare organizations and providers to engage patients involves making data accessible. “Access to technology is the number one issue with patient engagement,” says Chris Cashwell, who recently joined the executive team of Lincor Solutions, a global provider of patient engagement technology, from Nuance Communications.

“By that I mean, there are several proven and tested methods to help with patient engagement,” he continues, “but a lot of them are manual and not able to be measured on a consistent and repeatable basis because they involve nurses interacting with the patient and giving them a verbal review of their education initiative or their discharge planning process.”

In other areas of their lives, patients have access to a number of technologies to manage their data. However, in the world of healthcare they are limited by a lack of flexibility.

“Being flexible is a requirement for being successful with patient engagement because that’s what people demand outside of the hospital,” explains Cashwell. “So to touch them where they are and give them what they need, we need to be that same way inside the hospital.”

Supporting this kind of flexibility highlights the importance of espousing a device-agnostic approach, which could very well mean that a healthcare organization offers a diversity of access throughout its environment:

It may mean in one hospital your patient engagement strategy may be a smart device that is permanently in the room next to the bed on one floor for one type of patient, on another floor it may be a mobile device that you supplied to the patient, and in another part or all the hospital it may be a mobile solution that mirrors and integrates with your other smart devices that allows people to use their own devices in the BYOD world.

But what do these changes in data accessibility mean for providers? On the surface, they would appear to add to clinical workflows. According to Cashwell, giving providers as well as patients increased access to patient data such as through mobile devices should in fact streamline their clinical processes assuming they are well implemented.

“It’s giving them more access to existing workflows that makes them more efficient,” he argues. “If you can document and at the same time you’re interacting with the patient or that you can do it in the mobile solution that gives you access to your EMR or your clinical systems in multiple different ways and places, then that is not necessarily creating new workflows for them.”

With patients already familiar with tracking data in other aspects of their lives (e.g., financials), their expectations are growing for the kind of access they want in their healthcare. For healthcare and providers, rising to meet this challenge will require them to take their patient engagement strategies to the next level, from patient engagement to patient empowerment.

“The next level of patient engagement is going to be able to seamlessly integrate and give the patient access to the data they are bringing with them along with the clinician being able to access that data,” says Cashwell. “And then it’s going to be putting the patient front and center at the tip of the spear from the time they’re in the hospital to interacting with technology to understand what their plan is, what they want to contribute to that plan, and what the end result will be if the patient and the clinician and the caregiver all work together.”

Historically, patients have played a central role in ensuring that their data (i.e., in the form of paper records and documents) get from one provider to the next. The future of patient engagement centers on making these patients endpoints in themselves rather than means to an end. “It’s going to move toward empowering the patient to be part of their care plan,” adds Cashwell.

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