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My Christmas Wish List – A Closed Patient Engagement Gap

December 18, 2013
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Santa Claus,

How’s it going?

I know you are busy this time of year, meeting the requests of young boys and girls who have waited 11 months to make long-winded requests for toys, clothes, and gadgets alike. I know you’re preparing for an around-the-world-in-24-hours road trip, with nothing but a sleigh and some reindeer to keep you company.  

I know this and yet, selfishly, I’m going to make a minor request. My list isn’t that long this year. There’s a few small things I need (socks, a new fishing rod, a Greece and Turkey travel guide), but nothing major. So hopefully, you can oblige. For what it’s worth, I’m busy too. These articles don’t write themselves!

You see, this week, I sat in on a webinar from the National eHealth Collaborative (NeHC), which detailed the results from a survey done by consulting firm Accenture, on the public’s attitude towards their healthcare providers’ electronic capabilities. The survey of 9,015 consumers revealed that there is a significant gap between what they expect in terms of electronic capabilities and what providers offer.

Here’s a good example of this gap. Accenture reported that 82 percent of consumers would like to be able to book or change their doctor’s appointment online, but only 37 percent can. Seventy-three percent would like to be able to refill prescriptions online, but only 21 percent can.

It goes beyond capabilities, there’s a gap in beliefs too. More than four out of five consumers (84 percent) surveyed believe they should have full access to their electronic medical record (EMR), while only a third of physicians (36 percent) share this belief. You get the idea.

So here’s what I need from you this year, Santa. I need a realization from providers, specifically, physicians, that patient engagement needs to be fully embraced. What I need is this gap, between what patients expect and what they get, to be closed.

To be fair, and the results of the Accenture survey basically promote this idea, I think most physicians believe in patient engagement, to a degree. In fact, the majority of U.S. doctors (65 percent) say patients should only have limited access to their record.  But I don’t think you can take a half-step in this movement. That would just delay the inevitable.

Certainly, I understand the concerns from the provider side. In the webinar, Accenture’s Kaveh Safavi, M.D., spelled them out for us. He said doctors are worried about the privacy implications of, for instance, sending a secure email to a patient (69 percent of consumers surveyed said they want this). There are also concerns about interruptions in the way they deliver care.

One doesn’t have to look farther than the OpenNotes survey from researchers at Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess, the Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System, and HarborView Medical Center in Seattle, to see that those concerns were essentially unfounded over the course of a year-long pilot. And as we all know, not a single doctor who participated in that pilot elected to stop using OpenNotes.

Santa, perhaps you can relay the results from Accenture’s survey to these concerned providers. Like, maybe you can tell them that 52 percent of respondents said they would consider switching doctors to someone who offers online access to the EMR. Or you can tell them that 57 percent of respondents indicated that they tracked their health online in one way, shape, or form – a number that is sure to rise in the coming years.

“Patients are always patients, but patients are also consumers,” Safavi said during the webinar. I couldn’t’ agree more. If you can’t convince them Santa, eventually reality will. The younger consumers surveyed by Accenture had a higher rate of expectations when it came to their provider’s electronic capabilities.

Eventually, this gap will close, because, as Safavi said doctors are patients too. I do believe that. I just wouldn’t mind if you could speed up the process.  I know you have a lot on your plate, but can you do this for me? I’ve been pretty good this year, I promise you that.

If not, I guess I’ll just take that fishing rod instead.

Happy Holidays!

Gabriel S. Perna


P.S. I’m Jewish, I hope this doesn’t change anything!