How Technology Shapes Patient Engagement

How Technology Shapes Patient Engagement

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From wearable devices to telehealth and patient portals, emerging new technologies are paving the way for greater patient engagement, and enhancing the way that patients manage their own health. With a nudge from Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentives programs for Stage 2 of meaningful use, providers have also started looking for ways they can better communicate with patients.

Benefits of Patient Engagement:

Through the coordinated effort and buy-in from providers and patients, we can begin to see improved health outcomes, reduced costs and other benefits. Some of the benefits of better patient engagement include:

  • Population health: Better engagement can mean better overall health for the entire healthcare population. Wearable devices can monitor activity in patients and encourage them to stay fit. Some monitoring tools can help patients control medication or chronic conditions. Analyzing public health data can help scientists identify trends that can improve outcomes.
  • Reduced healthcare costs: The obvious benefit to patient engagement includes the improved workflow resulting from using new technologies to share information. An EHR or HIE can eliminate or reduce manual paperwork and re-entry of patient data. With accurate information in the system, patients experience better diagnoses, along with fewer errors and complications. Technology can also streamline health insurance and payment systems, as well as appointment scheduling and monitoring.
  • Improved communication between physician and patient: Patient engagement initiatives are all about providers and patients working together. With greater means to communicate with each other, such as via web or video chat and conferencing, secure messaging and social media, physicians and patients can connect more often and keep each other informed of changes in the patients’ conditions.
  • Increased patient satisfaction: With better understanding and control over their health, patients can feel more content about their overall patient experience when they are using technologies that help them engage. Patients will also feel more confident in their doctors’ diagnoses, knowing that they have the most updated information on their health or condition. In return, physicians may receive higher quality and satisfaction ratings from patient surveys.

Tools for Patient Engagement:

When patients are more engaged in their own health, they tend to make healthier choices, and thus have greater overall health. Some of the latest technologies shaping patient engagement involve managing patient health data, communicating with physicians before, during and after a visit, self-care at home, education and financial management. Patients could use any number of available tools to manage their health. One of the main tools currently in use for patient engagement is the patient portal. These secure, online websites give patients 24/7 access to their personal health information. Along with personalized data on medications, allergies, and vital statistics, patients can use patient portals to review recent doctor visits, lab results and discharge summaries. In many patient portals, patients can manage and update personal information, coordinate billing and insurance, schedule appointments, download paperwork, request prescription refills, and even send a secure email to a provider. With easy access to this personal health information, patients and caregivers can stay more involved in the healthcare process.

Obstacles of Patient Engagement:

While everyone agrees that patient engagement is a good thing, there are still some hurdles that are preventing patients from becoming fully engaged. These include:

  • Lack of health literacy: Many consumers are unaware of ways that they can take control of their own health or manage their chronic conditions. When providing information to patients, providers must consider the individual learning style as well as the skill level to determine how health information is presented in a patient portal or other tool. This will help ensure safety and adherence to care plans, as well as prevent unnecessary complications or hospital readmissions.
  • Ease of use: While many technologies exist to improve patient engagement, some tools require education and training on both the provider and patient side in order for them to be used appropriately. Health care IT vendors continually work to improve user interfaces and features to make the engagement process simple and painless for both providers and patient users.
  • Practices driven by requirements: Many hospital systems and practices have been driven to implement patient engagement initiatives based on the Stage 2 meaningful use’s patient access requirement that five percent of patients view, download or transmit some form of personal health data via the organization’s patient portal. Staff members may not fully embrace the process of improving patient engagement if they look at things from a numbers perspective, and should also focus on enhancing the customer experience when implementing new technologies.
  • Communication preferences: Practices considering implementing patient engagement strategies need to keep in mind the individual communication preferences of their patients. For instance, some aging seniors may not be as comfortable using web chat technologies or logging into a smartphone app, but younger generations may prefer this method of communication.
  • Ownership of the engagement initiatives: Should the IT department, physician, nurses or other personnel be the spearhead for the organization’s engagement? With no group or perhaps multiple groups offering to take the lead, many engagement offerings flounder. In addition, the IT department may not be in tune with customer needs, so without an integrated effort, engagement plans may not be as successful.
  • Multiple patient portals: Without connectivity between a hospital’s patient portals and a health information exchange, patients could potentially have to log in and view data from several different patient portals, depending on how many doctor groups and locations they visit. If physicians lack this connectivity, they may not benefit from seeing the full picture of a patient’s health, thus impeding the diagnosis or decision-making process.
  • Changing behavior: Getting patients more engaged in their own health can be a challenge. While technology can add convenience and enhance the patient experience, some patients may take some convincing to change the way they have been communicating with physicians for years. Other patients may not want to take the time and effort required to learn the new technology, especially without an incentive. On the clinician side, using new technology also includes an operational shift, and some staff members may be reluctant to devote resources to learning something that alters their current workflow – regardless if it offers efficiencies or cost-savings down the road.

With health information exchanges, electronic health records and patient portals already in use across the health system, technologies are helping patients get fully engaged in their own health and well-being. Healthcare institutions must embrace these new changes slowly, while keeping policy and interoperatiblity in mind. In addition, by helping patients navigate this new world of communication, hospitals can work with technology partners to reap the many benefits that successful patient engagement offers.