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Out of the Office: Mobile Tools are Pushing Patient Engagement

March 3, 2013
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When I was looking over the HIMSS13 pre-conference symposiums, there was one growing trend in healthcare primed for a big future that I really wanted to spend time covering.

Frankly, it’s hard to not be a fan of the patient engagement movement. At its core, patients should be more engaged and active with their own healthcare and should have access to their health records.

On March 3 at HIMSS13 in New Orleans, two physicians discussed how organizations can use social media and mobile applications to engage patients beyond the office visit, and how the movement towards these new technologies is empowering both care providers and patients to rethink the traditional doctor/patient relationship.

Both physicians at the symposium—Kate Christensen, M.D., medical director, internet services at Oakland, Calif.-based integrated healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente, and Geeta Nayyar, M.D., CMIO of AT&T ForHealth—found a positive correlation between patient engagement and an improved quality of health.

This is not something that came as particularly surprising to me, as federal regulations and meaningful use requirements urge hospitals to use health information technology and other initiatives to increase patient engagement, understanding and compliance. Hospitals that engage patients often see better outcomes, reduced readmissions and enhanced patient and staff satisfaction—a notion backed up in the February issue of the health policy journal Health Affairs, which focused on the new era of patient engagement, detailing several accounts of positive results when it comes to improved healthcare.

Not only can patient engagement lead to improved health, but it can also lead to lower costs. For example, in an analysis of 33,163 patients of Fairview Health Services, a large healthcare delivery system in Minneapolis, Health Affairs found that patients with the lowest activation levels had predicted average costs that were 8 percent higher in the base year and 21 percent higher in the first half of the next year than the costs of patients with the highest activation levels, both significant differences.

These outcomes are in line with what Christensen found when looking at Kaiser’s e-engagement trends. For starters, in 2012, three million of Kaiser’s patients booked appointments online, a seemingly simple task that actually had several productive results, including an improvement in office efficiency and a 33 percent decrease in patient no-shows.

Thirty percent of all prescription refills were also completed on Kaiser’s website, where patients could easily look for medications, find out if a refill is available, and even have the prescription delivered to their home free of charge, which saves time and money.

Overall, Christensen predicted that mobile engagement would become dominant by 2015. And it doesn’t have to be complicated, Nayyar explained. Texting is simple, but the messages need to be HIPPA compliant and sent in a private and secure manner. “Smartphones give the ability for physicians to engage with patients,” she said, going as far as to include the homeless, who might not have a home or zip code when they enter the emergency room, but will have a phone.

Simply put, the evidence in support of patient engagement is continuing to increase, and according to Nayyar, mobile applications that will change how patients and physicians interact with each other need to be embraced.

“We have an opportunity to change healthcare and literally bring it home to our patients,” Nayyar said.