Widespread Adoption of True Patient Engagement Involvement and Technology Still Needed

The healthcare system in the U.S. has made notable progress in advancing patient-centeredness over the last several years. For example, more health consumers receive educational information at the appropriate level and they have greater access to their own electronic health records (EHRs) through online portals. In fact, health information technology (IT) has shown incredible promise in transforming care, improving clinical outcomes and cutting costs.

Spurred by the two major health reform laws (the HITECH Act and the Affordable Care Act), many healthcare organizations (HCOs) are implementing new technology systems to deliver patient-centered care and services. Several articles and reports have been published that assess the progress made, particularly regarding patient portals. It is clear that, while the reform laws and government programs are a good starting point, they aren’t enough to create a fundamental shift towards patient engagement. What lacks is the “active involvement” of all of the key stakeholders: healthcare providers, insurers, IT vendors and patients. The right technology to truly engage patients also needs to be deployed across the board.

A new report from Chilmark Research shows that some of the more innovative HCOs have been embracing patient engagement through advances in technology; however, many HCOs are doing the “bare minimum when it comes to digital, between-visit or post-discharge interactions with patients” (and some HCOs haven’t even adopted basic patient portals). This finding is reflected in other recent studies done and articles published, including from the National Partnership for Women and Families, Technology Advice and Harris/Xerox. While these reports find that health consumers are increasingly more comfortable with online access to their health records, there is still a need for greater utilization and patient engagement. The Chilmark report concludes that patient engagement is secondary to other enterprise priorities such as defining clinician networks, building analytics capabilities and preparing for population-based health management.

From a health IT vendor standpoint, the report reveals that HCOs are picking and choosing multiple vendors in order to meet both clinical and business needs, as no one technology vendor is able to do it all at this point. As the report author, Naveen Rao, summarized: “Provider organizations are relying on their existing vendors to lead the way on new engagement tools, while those companies have been reactive, not proactive, with their customers’ engagement needs. The more innovative products—the mobile apps, cloud-based care plans, remote-monitoring plays—are coming from outside traditional legacy vendors’ purview. While some of the bigger vendors are showing signs of updating their products, we expect to see most legacy vendors follow a buy rather than build strategy to address market needs more rapidly.”

Rao states in the report that novel, innovative approaches are emerging that will keep patients involved in their care. “These typically involve a far greater degree of collaboration between clinicians and patients, and often result in the production of patient-generated health data that can serve as a valuable piece of patients’ overall longitudinal report.”

“A complete record, with patients’ data stored alongside clinical notes, lab values and so forth is able to serve as both a ‘single source of truth’ on a patient across multiple care settings, as well as a medical ‘home base for their ongoing care journey,’ ” says Rao.

As the report sums up, newer approaches are being piloted in parts of the country, however “entering 2015, more comprehensive deployments remain elusive.”

If HCOs are going to advance and implement true patient engagement, it will be important for them to ensure they have the right technology to allow them to do that. It also will be important for HCOs to adequately promote the technology to their patients as well as widely use the technology themselves. If we are going to advance patient engagement the way it needs to, all stakeholders need to work together to create as meaningful an experience for patients as possible.

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