Using Technology to Engage Patients

In the “computer world” in which we live today, patients are using technology to address their healthcare needs in ways that we have never seen before: they are researching potential treatment options online, proactively following up about test results and directly participating in care decisions using secure email and patient portals, and researching over-the-counter and nontraditional remedies on their own through internet surfing. Over the next year, and likely years to come, this increased patient engagement facilitated by technology will continue to change the ways patients and providers interact. And there’s no doubt that this change will enhance patient care—for the better.

A New Twist on an Existing Idea

While the idea of engaging patients in their care is not new, organizations that leverage technology to achieve greater patient involvement are on the forefront of this work. Technology can enhance patient-provider communication, promote shared decision-making and drive patient accountability for self-management. For example, patient portals can strengthen communication by opening up a two-way dialogue outside of the patient appointment. While portals have been around for awhile, the security features of this technology have improved dramatically, allowing patients to more securely access and respond to their health information.

Additionally, mobile technology can enable better patient self-management. For example, medication applications allow patients to store prescription details and record usage, such as when they take medications, if they skipped a dose or if they took a dose late. Patients’ medication histories are then available to the physician BEFORE the patient’s next appointment. This flow of information streamlines the medication reconciliation process, and also fosters continuous and consistent medication use because patients using these applications may become more aware of their usage habits and feel more committed to addressing them. Mobile health applications are readily available and often free of charge. Perhaps as soon as this year, these types of applications may be configured to link to an electronic health record so that physicians can monitor patient healthcare habits in real time!

Technology can also assist with other aspects of patient health management, a key element in accountable care models and another way to engage patients in improving their health. Software is available that can search an organization’s automated master patient index and identify patients in need of particular services, such as an annual mammogram for women over 40 or a quarterly hemoglobin test for diabetics. Once these patients are identified, a healthcare provider can contact them, encouraging patients to make an appointment for care. An organization can even use technology to make the calls, setting up an automated telephone reminder that connects with the patient.

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