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At the Seattle HIT Summit, UW Medicine’s Grosser Asks Leaders to Rethink Patient Engagement

October 22, 2018
by Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief
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UW Medicine CIO Joy Grosser shared her perspectives on patient engagement and the patient experience

Are patient care leaders failing to make a conceptual distinction that might really make a difference? That question was pondered by Joy Grosser, CIO at UW Medicine, the four-hospital University of Washington health system, in her opening keynote address on Monday morning at the Health IT Summit in Seattle, being held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Seattle, and sponsored by Healthcare Informatics.

Speaking to an audience of healthcare leaders, Grosser, who joined UW Medicine as CIO just under a year ago, said that one key thing that patient care organization leaders need to ponder is the crucial difference between patient engagement and the patient experience, as an understanding of that distinction can really make a difference in how organizational leaders strategize forward to meet the needs of patients and communities.

Beginning her presentation, entitled “Patient Engagement: Can Digital Health Help Our Patients Become a Member of the Healthcare Team?” Grosser noted that she finds the terms “patient” and “provider” somewhat limiting and problematic, but also that terms like “consumer” can also be problematic, Grosser outlined some of the challenges and opportunities in enhancing both patient engagement and the patient experience







Joy Grosser

“When it comes to patient engagement, how are providers and patients—how are we working together to improve health?” Grosser asked her audience. “We all know that medication adherence is an issue. People do what physicians tell them to do, but how to we create greater engagement, which contributes to improved health outcomes? And how does information technology contribute? Even though my father was a physician, my parents were somewhat of the era in which you did what your doctor told you to do, without asking. Some years later, people began to research medical issues on their own. Now, my children’s generation has a completely different attitude. There is always the question of ‘why’ patients should do something in particular.”

Meanwhile, Grosser said, “I use the broader umbrella term ‘digital health’ to describe how we bring things to our patients.” Indeed, she said, “Oftentimes, ‘patient engagement’ and ‘the patient experience’ are described as interchangeable, but I find they’re very different things. The patient doesn’t have to be engaged to have an experience.” That said, “There is overlap, though. In fact, if you’ve had a bad patient experience, it’s going to be harder to engage as a patient.”

Meanwhile, Grosser told her audience that, while hosting a patient portal is just a beginning when it comes to engaging patients, website development is a necessary start. In fact, Grosser said, in a road trip the past weekend in which she went through several different large communities, she web-searched the websites of several different hospital organizations, and found that, among several of them, one could only scheduled appointments in a couple of or a few medical specialties, and that most appointment scheduling still had to be accomplished via telephone call.

So some of the limitations of patient portals include that, since the development of a patient portal was a requirement of the meaningful use program under the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act, simply having one really is no longer a differentiator in the market; second, portals tend to be not strongly customized versions of EHR (electronic health record) brand templates; and the portals that have been created tend to be difficult to customize as “containers” for a variety of patient-facing tools.

Still, Grosser noted, “There’s that opportunity to be a container of patient information, rather than just one place that the EHR sits. We recognized that there were limitations, as we moved into an app world and wanted to link those apps,” she said, of the hospital industry’s movement forward in this area.

Meanwhile, as a practical matter, telehealth inevitably started small, Grosser said. “It started with physicians saying, ‘OK, put my picture online’” to create an initial presence. “We didn’t move there as an industry, we moved as individuals; so much so that all our EHR vendors have pulled in virtual care elements into their EHR solutions. Our physicians were often slow to respond, though.” In relation to that, she recalled,  I worked in an organization in Southern California in which they began training physicians just out of residency” to specialize in telehealth, and “to learn how to interact from a screen. We actually worked with film industry people to train” those physicians how to interact more effectively through a screen. “There are literally physicians coming out of residency who are working online. People are calling them Uber doctors. They’re working for third-party vendors. We might want those physicians in our healthcare systems as well,” she noted.

More broadly, in terms of creating and expanding on a digital health presence, Grosser said that there really is a market growth opportunity there, but that so often, internal opposition will be a limiting factor. “Oftentimes,” she said, “your physician billing organization will say, ‘We can’t see a person virtually for the first time, because we can’t verify them as a real person. But there’s a real differentiator when teledoc companies said, I don’t care if I’ve seen you in person before or not.” So, she asked, “Are your physicians looking at this as an annoyance, an add-on, or a growth opportunity? I was at a conference about a year ago, and people were touting an online experience, except you got an appointment by calling first. They had linked the medical records, and visits, but not the scheduling for the visits. And are these visits recorded in your medical record as a visit? Or deemed as being an urgent clinic, where the documentation will have to be redone?” Numerous practical challenges remain.

One area of real opportunity, Grosser said, involves live chat with patients. “I’ve looked through many surveys” of healthcare consumers, to determine what it is that consumers say they want. Fundamentally, she said, patients want three things: access, communication, and knowledge. “But maybe how they want those will evolve, as the IT side evolves as well. They want mobile, including chat. And honestly,” she said, creating “chat is so easy. It’s an incredibly important part of that mobile industry as well.” And, she said, patients want a voice experience—in some cases, via technology like Alexa. That opportunity will be particularly strong on the mental health side of the industry.

In fact, Grosser said, healthcare consumers “want the same experience they get when booking airfares. They want to do that here in Seattle with hospitals and clinics,” to find out which patient care organizations will offer what types of physician visit availability, and eventually, even to compare specific moment-to-moment comparative availability. “And how do they get a Kayak-type experience, where they describe the kind of physician they want, and a mechanism can help them?”

Beyond scheduling ease, Grosser noted, “Patients want communication with their healthcare team. And they want knowledge,” including trusted, customized knowledge. That is where some type of Alexa experience, involving artificial intelligence, could prove quite appealing to patients in the near future.

Meanwhile, engagement could also apply along another dimension, Grosser told her audience. And that would be in the area of wearables and other consumer-facing devices that could appropriately communicate specific types of patient data to clinicians, as needed. For example, she said, “If I’m in orthopedics, I might not want to know how much you walk every day, but I might want to know you walked after your hip or knee replacement, or that you went for your physical therapy. AI [artificial intelligence] can help me filter the information I need as a health system.”

Ultimately, Grosser said, when it comes to innovation, “We are moving towards a mobile health maturity model. We’re looking for patient-generated data, generated in a meaningful way. We have to understand that that kind of information is meaningful.”

Meanwhile, Grosser asked, “How do we get to those empathetic health and healthcare tools? This is where I think the market for engagement will take us a long way. Patients will want to connect with non-threatening people to help them take the next steps. How do we make sure that they’re taking the right steps? That we want them to go off particular medication? How do we classify the right apps for them? Work together with their clinicians on the best apps for them?”

There are vast opportunities to create new forms and channels for the engagement of healthcare consumers, Grosser emphasized. But patient care organization leaders need to be very aware of the emergence of a broad range of disruptors, from technology and retail companies like Microsoft and Amazon, but also from such business combinations as CVS as Aetna, as any of those entities might easily rush in to fill voids that patient care organizations have not yet figured out how to fill.

“I think disruptors are good things to the industry,” Grosser told her audience. “If we look at Amazon-related headlines—at Amazon, they’re looking for data scientists, and have been talking about tackling healthcare for some time. My adult children were born before Amazon was created,” she noted. “I asked my children this weekend what they thought about doctors being on Amazon. They said, oh, that’s a great idea! And ended up being engaged in a great conversation. They don’t look at healthcare as a continuum of care. They look at it as offering options” to consumers. And in that context, she said, it's important to note that “The book industry was a test for where else Amazon wanted to go.” And after several years focused primarily on selling books, the executives at Amazon figured out how to succeed in selling a vast range of consumer goods via the same model. Could Amazon disrupt the retail pharmacy industry? Could the CVS-Aetna merger end up strongly disrupting the patient care delivered in medical clinics? What about the announcement last week on the part of Walgreens, which will be partnering with the 14-hospital, Grand Blanc, Michigan-based McLaren Health Care, to expand pharmacy and healthcare services across that state?

Meanwhile, employers represent another potential disruptor in this area. And auto manufacturers, who face the reality that one-quarter of the cost of producing a car, is eaten up by employee and family healthcare costs, are contracting directly with organizations like Cleveland Clinic, in order to cost-effectively manage their employees’ and employees’ family members’ costs for high-volume procedures like total joint replacement. Patient care organization leaders also need to look at the venture capital funders in healthcare to see where VC companies are investing their money into the future.

In the end, Grosser told her audience, the potential for patient care organization leaders to move proactively to engage their patients and improve their experiences, is great; but the potential for outside organizations to come into healthcare as disruptors, is also significant.

Patton concluded her presentation by sharing a quote from General George S. Patton: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”


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UnitedHealthcare to Award Members with Apple Watches for Meeting Daily Walking Goals

November 16, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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UnitedHealthcare Motion, an employer-sponsored wellness program, is telling its participants they can get a free Apple Watch if they meet the insurer’s daily walking goals over a six-month period.

Participants can start receiving and using the Apple Watch (initially paying only tax and shipping) and then apply program earnings toward the purchase price of the device. Participants may be able to own, with a zero balance, an Apple Watch after approximately six months of meeting daily walking goals, the insurer announced this week. If members already own an Apple Watch, they can use the one they have.

UnitedHealthcare Motion, since 2015, has been providing eligible plan participants access to wearables that may help them earn over $1,000 per year by meeting certain daily walking goals. Since the program’s inception, participants have collectively walked more than 235 billion steps and earned nearly $38 million in rewards, according to officials.

Program participants can now use the Apple Watch to see how they are tracking against the program’s three daily goals—frequency, intensity, and tenacity—helping integrate physical activity and engagement with their health plan.

Indeed, UnitedHealthcare Motion is available to employers with self-funded and fully insured health plans across the country. The program may enable employees to earn up to $4 per day in financial incentives based on achieving FIT goals:

  • Frequency: complete 500 steps within seven minutes six times per day, at least an hour apart;
  • Intensity: complete 3,000 steps within 30 minutes; and
  • Tenacity: complete 10,000 total steps each day.

“This program is part of UnitedHealthcare’s broader effort to provide people with wearables, digital resources and financial incentives that help them take charge of their health, better manage chronic conditions and make care more affordable,” officials noted.

Indeed, these efforts build on UnitedHealthcare’s existing consumer offerings, powered by Rally, which have enabled people to earn more than $1 billion in health-related financial incentives since 2016, the insurer stated.

Among all eligible UnitedHealthcare Motion participants, more than 45 percent participated in the program—compared to some other employer-sponsored disease-management programs that report 5 percent engagement rates.

Among people who registered their device, 59 percent stayed active for at least six months, a rate higher than gym memberships (29 percent). Current program participants walk an average of nearly 12,000 steps, or more than twice the approximately 5,200 steps logged by the average American adult, officials said.

The program has been particularly appealing to eligible participants with chronic conditions. People with such a diagnosis are 20 percent more likely to participate, and people who have diabetes are 40 percent more likely to participate than those who do not, according to the insurer.

As CNBC’s Christina Farr speculated in a story that broke the day before the UnitedHealthcare announcement, “The integration with UnitedHealthcare, which is the largest U.S. healthcare company, could mean a boost in sales of the Apple Watch as more people are able to buy it at an affordable price.”

It was reported last year that another major health insurer, Aetna, which already offers the Apple Watch to its employees as part of a wellness program, has also been in talks with Apple about pushing the wearable device to the health insurer’s members, according to a report in CNBC.

About a month ago, UnitedHealth Group’s CEO said on an earnings call that the insurer would be unveiling a “fully integrated and fully portable individual health record” by the end of next year, with the Rally digital platform serving as the base for development. 

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N.Y. Hospital Conducts Digital Assessments of Patient Interactions

November 13, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Upstate University Hospital uses Vocera Rounds mobile app to gather data, provide feedback
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Physicians at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., are using a mobile app to collect data about hospitalists’ behaviors during patient interactions in order to provide real-time feedback.

Amit Dhamoon, M.D., Ph.D., internist at Upstate University Hospital and associate professor of medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University, said he was looking for a way to improve physician-patient communications.

“It is still unclear why some physicians really connect with patients and some just are not able to,” he said. “It is unclear why certain patients trust certain doctors more than others. We want to look at some basic behaviors.”

His team decided to do the digital assessment using a customized version of Vocera Rounds, a mobile application that enables clinicians to collaborate in responding to patient feedback and closing care gaps. “We needed a way to collect the data, relay it, and analyze it,” he said.

Fourth-year medical students who are going into internal medicine join the team of hospitalists on their rounds and serve as “silent shoppers,” Dhamoon said. They focus on the communication aspects of each interaction, and enter their observations into an iPad.  Residents and physicians also use the app to conduct a brief patient survey after the encounter. 

Among other things, they assess:

• how much time the provider was in the room;
• whether the provider introduced themselves;
• whether they sat down at eye level with patient; and
• At the end of conversation, did they ask if there were any questions?

Dhamoon said patients may pick up on body language or other things that physicians are not even cognizant of. “We are focusing on how to treat gall bladder disease or make their pneumonia better. We are focusing on the medicine,” he said. “We have to do that, but we also have to communicate what we are thinking.”

In an academic medical center, it is not unusual for teams of eight to nine doctors, residents and students enter a patient’s room. “Sometimes they don’t know what to do with their hands, so they stand with their arms crossed in front of them,” Dhamoon said. “For the patient, who is lying down with an ailment, it can almost feel like an inquisition.”

Dhamoon says hospital rooms are sometimes cramped and there is not a chair available. “I can say that it should be the gold standard that we are at eye level, so it doesn’t send a message to the patient that we have one foot out the door. But if we don’t have the basic tools in place, like a chair, then it is not going to work.”

Dhamoon and his colleagues are studying the effectiveness of this training approach and its impact on patient satisfaction measured by Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys.  “My colleagues are incredible people. I want our patients to see how incredible they are. We get in our own way sometimes.”



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GetWellNetwork Acquires HealthLoop

November 9, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Company seeks to provide comprehensive digital patient and family engagement platform

GetWellNetwork, a Bethesda, Md.-based company offering a platform for improving patient engagement, has acquired Silicon Valley startup HealthLoop.

The acquisition expands 280-employee GetWellNetwork’s reach into nearly 700 healthcare providers. Mountain View-Calif.-based HealthLoop’s platform enables care teams to engage patients before and after admission through automated, daily check-ins. Customers include Advocate Aurora Health, UCSF Health and LifeBridge

GetWellNetwork said it is combining its nearly two decades of experience implementing patient engagement solutions with 30-employee HealthLoop’s expertise in mobile technologies and digital care management. The move is designed to catalyze growth in the ambulatory space and signals its plans for more investment in cross-continuum tools to connect patients, families and providers.

GetWellNetwork was named one of Healthcare Informatics’ “Up and Comer” companies back in 2014. In an interview then, CEO Michael O’Neil described how the company uses the TV set in a hospital room to enhance patient engagement. To deal with pain management, GetWellNetwork has a workflow called the pain assessment pathway. If a patient is on a morphine pill, the system interrupts the TV show every hour to ask the patient to rate their pain on a scale. "If I report a certain threshold or below, it is simply going to document that in Epic, Cerner or Allscripts," O'Neil said. "If I report a five or above, it will document but also, through a Vocera badge, signal a nurse to go to the room. That is one pathway we help deploy, where pain management is a service or quality metric that a particular organization is trying to move the needle on. We are working with healthcare systems with the courage to take the 'patient-centered mission' off the poster in their office and bring it to the point of care."

In a prepared statement about the most recent acquisition, O’Neil said:  “Adding HealthLoop to our portfolio advances our strategy to provide the most comprehensive, end-to-end digital patient and family engagement platform. The changing nature of the how and where care is delivered requires dynamic solutions to meet modern engagement challenges. With HealthLoop as part of the GetWell portfolio, we’re excited to help health care organizations rethink and accelerate their digital strategies.”




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