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How CIOs Can Lead the Charge in IT-Enabled Patient Engagement

July 25, 2017
by Heather Landi
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As healthcare has become more digital, it has provided more opportunities for patients to be engaged in their care, whether through pa­tient portals or mobile apps. In the broader sense, as healthcare continues to evolve from a fee-for-service to a value-based care payment model, many healthcare leaders agree that patient engagement is going to play a critical role. The more involved and invested patients are in their own healthcare, the greater the likelihood for successful care outcomes, and this patient engage­ment piece is paramount as patient care organizations increasingly take on more risk.

The current picture of patient engagement activities and strategies in healthcare organizations is a mixed outlook. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) reported in 2015 that about 7 out of 10 hospitals let patients view, download and transmit their own health information. A 2016 report from the American Hospital Association found that 92 percent of hospitals offer patients the capability to view medical records online.

In February, CDW Healthcare released its 2017 Patient Engagement Perspective Study to explore the drivers, challenges and influences for patient engagement and that study found that 70 percent of patients say they have become more engaged in their healthcare during the past two years, up from 57 percent in 2016. What’s more, 74 percent of patients said they joined a patient portal offered by their healthcare provider, up from 45 percent in 2016, while 69 percent said they are speaking percentage said they are accessing healthcare informa­tion more frequently.

When asked what motivated them to become more engaged with their healthcare, patients said their top two drivers were greater online access to personal healthcare records and access to online patient portals, the CDW study found.

From the provider side, the study also found that 66 percent of providers noted a change in their patients’ level of engagement with their own healthcare. Seventy-one per­cent of providers surveyed said improving patient en­gagement is a top priority for their organization, which is up from 60 percent in 2016, and 80 percent are working on a way to make personal health­care records easier to access, a large increase from 67 percent who said the same in 2016. When examining providers’ motivating factor for patient engagement efforts, 67 percent said it was an important part of im­proving overall care, while 56 percent cited technology advancements and slightly more than half cited mean­ingful use requirements.

According to that study, patients noted that commu­nication is key to engagement and technology is a tool that can be used to give patients access to information and expand interaction. Ninety-five percent of patients responding to the survey said they have experienced benefits from engagement with their personal health­care information online.

However, challenges remain, as highlighted by the survey, as just 29 percent of patients said they would give their healthcare providers an “A” for their use of technology to interact with and engage patients. Ad­ditionally, a survey by NEJM Catalyst, which is part of the NEJM Group that produces The New England Journal of Medicine, found that most healthcare or­ganizations are still in the pilot or planning stages for the next wave of patient engagement, such as using patient-generated data, social networks and wireless/ wearable devices.

When asked about the current status of patient en­gagement efforts among patient care organizations, Doug Thompson, senior director, research at the Wash­ington, D.C.-based Advisory Board Company, says, “It’s better than it used to be. Traditionally, patient engage­ment was not something that was driven by the health system, it was something that might happen between the doctor and patient. In the last five years or so, health systems have been interested in patient engagement for a variety of reasons and they have improved it substan­tially. If you ask hospital and health system executives, they’ll say, ‘Yes, we need to have engaged patients, be­cause we’re not paid for really sick patients coming into the hospitals and getting a lot of treatment, we’re paid for keeping patients well. And, if we’re going to do that, it’s essential for us to engage with the patient so they can promote their own good health and have less utili­zation.’ The state of the industry has improved, but it’s not fantastic.”

Considering the challenges facing healthcare lead­ers in their efforts to improve patient engagement, Hal Wolf, director, information and digital health strategy at the Chicago-based Chartis Group consultancy, says, “Healthcare systems are moving simultaneously towards strategies to deliver population health and personaliza­tion. Understanding that one size does not fit all is a crit­ical learning in patient engagement. Sometimes systems are focused on the individual patient but often there is an extended support system that has to be engaged. Patient segmentation is new to healthcare, so borrow­ing lessons from other industries, like finance, media and retail, is critical.”

STRATEGIC PATIENT ENGAGEMENT, AND THE ROLE OF I.T.

As health system leaders de­velop patient engagement strategies, they need to be focused on what they are try­ing to accomplish and for what reason they are develop­ing their strategy, Wolf says. Health system leaders should ask: “Which patients do they serve best? What cohort is prevalent in my market? Which short- and/or long-term re­lationships with patients and providers are needed? This is just the beginning of the questions that need to be asked,” Wolf notes. “Gaining a clear understanding of where their market is headed and how they want to be positioned is just as important in patient engagement as it is in every segment of cus­tomer relationships.”

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