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Engaging is Educating and Other Leftover Lessons from HIMSS

April 30, 2015
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Tonic Health App Credit: Tonic

On top of the Elsevier booth at the 2015 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), I got a firsthand look at the next development in frontline chronic care management and patient engagement.

It looks simple and easy to use. It almost looks fun.

Pamela Duncan, Ph.D., a professor and director of transitional outcomes at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston Salem, N.C, is talking about the challenges of capturing cognitive, functional, and environmental/social information to create individualized care plans for chronic care patients, per the requirements of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). “That is a big order for frontline healthcare. They don’t have the resources,” Duncan told me at HIMSS.

For its part, Wake Forest has formulated the Duncan Functional Assessment, which lines up with the CMS Well Patient Visit requirements.  But even if they can get that information, Duncan continued, it doesn’t necessarily mean the patient will get the right care plan implemented.

That’s where analytics comes into play. Across the country, healthcare organizations are capturing patient data and using analytics tools to formulate personalized plans for chronic care management patients. At Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, they’re deploying the Tonic Health app in an attempt to do that for pre-surgical screening and stroke assessments and research. More than that though, they’re doing it because it can better engage patients.

“Patients are fed up with going into the healthcare system, and the nurse or the doctor is looking at their computer screen and pointing and clicking. I can engage you with these nice graphics and talk to you about this,” Duncan said.

To Duncan’s point, the Tonic platform looks like a BuzzFeed quiz for patient data intake. Sterling Lanier, the CEO of Tonic (which entered a formal business relationship with Elsevier in late 2014), is showing me birthday cakes, smiley faces, and other colorful icons.  It’s about the pairing of contextually relevant graphics with text, he told me.

I’m not sure if there was a scientific study to prove that but I will say that if patient intake were always this fun, everyone would do it. Myself included.

In reality, Duncan said that the assessment platform is using structured data sets and tailored algorithms to personalize the patient’s healthcare plan, for them and for the provider. The latter is especially important when trying to work with surgeons who are too busy to capture this kind of vital information in a pre-op visit.

“It’s getting functional assessment to real-time practice to make actionable healthcare plans,” said Duncan of the platform. She doesn’t forget about the patient engagement factor. Colorful icons aside, she noted that it allows providers to take a go slow and educate approach to patient engagement.

Getting patient engagement right will make or break population health and chronic care management efforts, especially in low-income, underserved areas. A recent study published this week by researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago found that patient portals actually widened health disparities by race, education, and health literacy. Instead of engaging, they alienated patients.

Leaders at hospitals understand what’s at stake. The annual HIMSS Leadership Survey, presented at the conference, found that C-Level executives said that “improving patient satisfaction” and “improving patient care/quality of care” were their top business objectives. “We’re not going to improve the health of populations unless we can engage patients,” noted William W. Feaster, M.D., CMIO at CHOC Children’s Hospital, Orange, Calif., on a panel presenting the findings of the study.

What Tonic is providing is one element in the process. Engagement takes on many forms. On the HIMSS floor you saw this firsthand. Everyone wants to present the next silver bullet: telemedicine, remote monitoring and tracking, portals, patient-facing data capturing apps, etc. It’s a lucrative market.

More than colorful apps and fancy devices, as Duncan said, engaging is educating. Population health is taking that information and using it correctly.  “As everyone tries to go to population health management and patient-centered care, at the end of the day it’s the patient and the caregiver. We have to manage them across time,” she said.

Please feel free to respond in the comment section below or on Twitter by following me at @GabrielSPerna