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Getting to Engagement: Providers Invest in Patient Education

September 7, 2012
by Gabriel Perna
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The increasing interest in patient education systems

David Printz, CIO of the two-hospital Cadence Health system in Winfield, Ill., had two major reasons to invest in a patient education system back in 2004.

One, he says, was the organization’s sincere interest in delivering effective web-based education for its patients. Two, Cadence saw the potential in having a more educated patient and family, which would likely lead to lower negative outcomes with regards to malpractice. For many, the recent drive towards investments in patient education systems at various provider settings comes down to a smarter, more engaged patient.

“Health literacy is a huge topic, it’s really up-and-coming right now,” says Leigh-Ann Gaul, a certified nurse practitioner, brought on as Cadence’s patient education coordinator. “It’s all about making sure patients have the information they need, and can use that information, and apply that information to take care of themselves. That’s the key. You can give them as much information as you want, but if they are not able to absorb it and apply it, as far as their health goes, it’s kind of pointless.”

Websites like WebMD and Patients Like Me, and other forms of online education, such as Googling diagnoses, have become commonplace and ingrained in patient practice. In a recent survey, Wolters Kluwer Health discovered that 65 percent of those seeking medical information on the web trust the information that they find. Another study, from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy survey, found that two in five American adults have difficulty processing health information they receive in order to make appropriate decisions.

Buying In

Organizations like Cadence Health are recognizing the promise of patient education. Printz’s Cadence originally bought into Emmi Solutions, a Chicago-based provider of patient education platforms, to distribute information before surgical procedures. It has since expanded the patient education platform, which Printz says is interactive, visual, consistent, and easy to digest, by giving it to patients who are dealing with chronic diseases, stroke prevention, heart conditions, and soon it will be available to labor and delivery patients. It’s also made the programs available at the hospital on iPads.

One of the benefits, according to Gaul, is that patients can watch the programs as many times as they wish. This, she says, can be useful for retaking in information on medication and diet.  Also, she says, the program sends reminders to patients through email.

“Patients love them,” Gaul says. “We get reports on a monthly basis that has all their patient surveys attached, and overwhelmingly we’ve seen positive responses. They say it provides them with additional information that they didn’t have to ask their doctor about, it answers some questions they didn’t even think about. For them, it’s easy to use, engaging, that sort of thing.”

Cadence will continue investments in patient education. Along with the recent iPad investments, it is planning on integrating the program with its Epic (Verona, Wisc.) EMR system. This, Gaul says, will get physicians even more involved with the Emmi program.


Bruce Haviland, CIO of UPMC Mercy, a 487-bed hospital in Pittsburgh, has bought into patient education information systems for the same reasons as Printz: education and risk mitigation. Previously, he invested in the Emmi system as CIO of Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. At Magee, the platform has been used for pre-surgical purposes, as well as managing a chronic condition. According to a UPMC-led July 2010 study of 3,300 inpatient records in six diagnostic-related groups, the program helped reduce a patient’s length of stay by an average of 0.7 days at Magee and three other UPMC hospitals.

Haviland is now taking the success he had there to Mercy. He says the program is in the process of being implemented there.  He says a hands-on approach taken by Emmi in regards to training staff on the program has transferred to the staff with patients. Like Cadence, UPMC has also made iPads and computers with the program available for patients to use while they are at the hospital. For the entire UPMC health system, the patient education platform has been such a success that it has expanded into other areas, such as one for chemotherapy patients.

“Obviously that’s a high-risk population, there are so many different variations of cancer, and different outcomes and expectancies based on the diagnosis,” Haviland says. “It helps to give our population approved content on treatment that we are comfortable providing verse them finding out on their own.”

Haviland sees further patient education opportunities in other specialties, such as neurosurgery. Due to the buy-in at the top and the openness of Emmi, he says there aren’t too many areas where he thinks this kind of interactive education wouldn’t be effective.



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