Past, Present and Future of Patient Engagement

Our healthcare system, and the oncology market in particular, is in the beginning stages of a transformative process, adopting new technologies, care models, and standards of care in an effort to provide a more patient centered approach to care. Patients are at the core of the healthcare system, yet have been underutilized in their role and ability to be active participants in their care.

What is Patient Engagement?

Since the early days of the Internet we have witnessed a rise in patient engagement as patients have gone online to self diagnose symptoms, learn about their condition and treatment options once they receive a diagnosis, and connect with communities of like patients to learn from their experiences.

According to a 2010 PEW Research Center study, 83% of Internet users have used the Internet to search for health information, making this activity the third most popular for all online adults. To date this has happened outside of the patient/provider relationship, and can sometimes lead to misinformation and false hopes about unproven treatments. It can also lead to patients finding out about treatment options that have saved their lives, which they otherwise may have not known about.

Why is Patient Engagement Important?

Studies have shown that patients who are engaged in their care report a better quality of life and are more involved in treatment decisions with their health care team. A study by the advocacy group Kidney Cancer Canada found that patients who were engaged in their care rated their health higher, were more proactive in researching their health concerns, and acted more quickly to receive second and third line treatments when first line treatments failed.

Using Health IT to Power Patient Engagement

With the adoption of new technologies such as electronic health records (EHR’s) and patient portals, and new care models such as the Oncology Medical Home, patient engagement can become part of an oncology practice’s care model. Patients want to receive information from their doctor and healthcare team, and are going to the web when their questions and concerns aren’t being addressed. In a 2010 NCI Survey published in the journal Oncology, people’s trust in information from healthcare professionals had increased while their trust in health information from the Internet had waned between 2002 and 2008.

Using new patient portal technology, doctors can automatically provide patients with electronic copies of diagnosis specific patient education materials, and care management tools to track and report their treatment side effects, all under the clinic brand, which patients know and trust.

Patient Engagement from the Patient Perspective

Studies confirm patient engagement is beneficial, federal programs and advocacy organizations are encouraging practices to adopt technology and programs that will help engage patients, but what do cancer patients want? We surveyed our members to find out and will release the results in the coming weeks. Preliminary data confirms that a wide majority of cancer patients are interested in using online tools and resources to help manage their care and recovery, and are especially interested in reading cancer education materials from expert sources.

Engaging patients in their care is becoming an important part of the evolving patient/provider relationship, and as new standards of care and technology are implemented best practices will evolve for achieving positive outcomes. We’re excited to have a leading role in engaging patients in their care through health IT by providing the patient portal technology that will enable all stakeholders to realize the benefits of patient engagement.

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