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Designed with Patients in Mind

March 21, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
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As the industry aims to make medical records more patient-friendly, a privately-owned healthcare solutions company from N.J. creates a winning health design with patient engagement proving to be the spark that ignited it.
Kel Smith

In healthcare, viewing a medical record can be difficult. Verbiage can get technical for the patient to understand, even if all of the information is there. Moving from the era of paper to electronic in healthcare is necessary, but having patients being able to better comprehend and analyze their own records is still something that needs to be worked on.

Enter HealthEd, a Clark, N.J.-based healthcare solutions company rooted in education, which its chief innovation officer, Kel Smith, says was not too long ago occupying a space between tech startups and health communication agency environments. “We were filling a niche that didn’t quite exist,” says Smith.

But things changed when HealthEd decided to enter a submission in Blue Button’s national Health Design Challenge in November 2012. The company’s main focal point was to investigate new ways in which to evolve the patient-centered ethos, says Smith. “Medical communities are learning that patients are beginning to take ownership of their own health experience. We know that a more informed patient is a more compliant one. We’re seeing that happening in regards to Stage 2 [of meaningful use] and the Affordable Care Act—these are things that are influencing the healthcare ecosystem.  So this challenge was designed to have patients better understand their pathology reports.”

HealthEd actually entered two designs out of the more than 230 national submissions for the Blue Button contest, with its “Health Summary” entry taking first place in the Best Lab Summaries group. This design was unique due to the organization of the medical information, says Tara Rice, the company’s manager of health education. Lots of times, Rice says, the medical information is organized by the date of a patient’s last office visit, and that’s not always the best for patients.

So HealthEd’s design prioritized organizing the information by the patient’s condition or treatment, with its goal to think of the patient as the end user and think about how they would like to interact with their medical information. The design represented patients’ medical history as well as their overall health journey, Rice says. “This way, you can see each medical appointment as a snapshot in time, but you can also see it plotted over time, and that tells a holistic story of a patient’s medical history. This allows the patient to think of their medical history as their health journey.”

 “Health Summary” provides a health score based on physical, emotional, and lifestyle factors to help the patient easily understand his or her health status. The score gives the patient an overall view of what areas he or she is doing well in and where problems might be occurring. It will help patients track where they can improve their health and what actions they should take, says Mike Parker, manager, user experience at HealthEd. “Specifically, if you got information about high cholesterol or high blood pressure, what does that really mean to your overall health? Those were the biggest questions we explored.”

And the idea is to really drive patient engagement, adds Rice. “When coming up with this design, we asked ourselves, ‘How can we make patients care more about their information?’ We think the answer to that is making the medical information easier to understand, and then giving them actionable steps they can take in addition to talking to their doctor about. If there was a really low or high test result for instance, there would be a note saying you should talk to your doctor about it. If you were supposed to schedule an annual appointment and you hadn’t yet, you would get a notice about that. It’s all about trying to drive communication between the patients and their providers.”

The concept of behavioral change is one that Smith feels is necessary for any healthcare system to succeed. Technology is seen as the solution, but that’s not really the case, he says. “It’s about changing the behavior, which needs to be modified whether you’re dealing with an aging Baby Boomer (and there are more Boomers every year) who have an increased reliance on the medical system, or today’s Millennial [generation], who are used to dealing with that data at the palm of their hand. There is more data ever now than ever, but it’s not always clear, accessible, and understood. Trying to find that touchpoint inside all that data is what’s important. This is what you need to talk to your doctor about, and then medical professionals will know what they need to point out to their patient.”

As more physicians are adopting electronic health records (EHRs) in order to receive financial support under Medicare/Medicaid, patients will begin to have more access to their data. And patients want to better understand their data, but it’s difficult because many have difficulty interpreting it— it’s just numbers to them, adds Rice. “That’s where we are coming in. We want to make data clearer so they can not only understand it, but act on it so they can change their behavior and have a more positive health outcome.”

Smith sees the next steps for HealthEd centering around getting the winning design used, noting that he has had a fair number of existing and potential future clients asking about it, opening a lot of doors for conversations. The bar has been raised now across the board, he says. “Within 10 days of the [winning] announcement, we have had numerous folks calling us and showing interest. If you want me to predict, you will see something like this (even if it’s not ours) being used in mainstream healthcare in early 2014.”