Next-gen patient engagement: Applied intelligence and omni-channel messaging

Hospitals are shaping always-on consumer experiences with cutting-edge digital health tools as well as scheduling apps, workflow tools and more ways to access care.
By Bill Siwicki
08:08 AM
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Next-gen patient engagement

Patient engagement and user experience is a goal high on the priority list for many hospitals and health systems that wish to enhance communication with consumers, better include patients in their care decisions and ultimately improve outcomes.

Information technology can help caregivers on the front lines of healthcare better engage people to nail down these ambitions. And the next generation of patient engagement IT will offer better and new tools and approaches to help caregivers and others aim high and hit the mark.

Enhanced messaging will bolster engagement

Better bidirectional messaging with members of a patient’s care team is a next-generation feature of patient engagement technology, said Brian Eastwood, an analyst at Chilmark Research, a healthcare IT consulting firm.

“Such communication – in a patient’s preferred modality, whether via text message or within an engagement app itself – addresses the lag time between responses that is common with e-mail or phone communication,” Eastwood said. “Messaging also provides a way for patients to ask low-acuity questions directly to their care team, instead of seeking out telehealth, retail health or urgent care options.”

"Messaging also provides a way for patients to ask low-acuity care questions directly to their care team, instead of seeking out telehealth, retail health or urgent care options."

Brian Eastwood, Chilmark Research

This can reduce the gaps that appear in patient records when they seek care elsewhere, and it can help provider organizations retain patients who might otherwise seek care outside the provider’s network, he added.

“Messaging complements the level of engagement necessary to support a provider’s larger care management and population heath management goals, which often rely on frequent communication to help patients avoid 30-day hospital readmissions or achieve care plan goals tied to clinical outcomes,” Eastwood explained.

The next generation of consumer health will empower patients to look beyond the portal and be a proactive participant in their health and well-being, and digital technology will provide consumers with a comprehensive view of the health and well-being journey from birth, regardless of geographic location, said David Harse, vice president and general manager of consumer engagement at Cerner.

It will support consumers in viewing their personal information, and use applications and technologies to upload and add to their personal health record, Harse added.

“There is predictive and artificial intelligence,” he said. “As healthcare data becomes digitized, Big Data platforms and applied intelligence help organizations understand social determinants, on an individual and population level, and behavioral trends that inform an organization on how best to engage each consumer.”

Predictive and artificial intelligence

Next generation consumer health engagement strategies will strategically use predictive and artificial intelligence to create authentic and contextual consumer experiences that provide “always on” engagement, Harse added. Predictive intelligence will help organizations to use consumer data insights and behavioral trends to anticipate a consumer’s needs and intent to deliver personalized, targeted messaging and content at the right time using the consumer’s modality of choice, he said.

“Predictive intelligence will drive consumer outreach, engagement and retention,” he said. “AI will support organizations in providing consumers self-service communities and automated assistants, resulting in fewer touch-points and more expedient answers.”

"AI will support organizations in providing consumers self-service communities and automated assistants, resulting in fewer touch-points and more expedient answers."

David Harse, Cerner

When looking at patient engagement technology with an eye for what’s on the horizon, one must begin with the question of what problems need solving, what forces will guide innovation and subsequent solutions, said Joshua Newman, chief medical officer at Salesforce.

“The easy, popular answer that tends to be thrown around relies heavily on technology itself,” he said. “And it rests on a belief that if we just connect our bodies to some technology, we will be miraculously healthier and our system better. But there’s little evidence of this. Heart rate, temperature, even blood pressure aren’t so crucial to solving health or health services problems.”

The three biggest problems are the cost of care, the often terrible experience of the healthcare system and the ways lifestyle choices – arguably the most important factor of health – are often inaccessible to health providers, much less their technologies, processes and expertise, Newman said.

“These three form a triad of important pressures that will likely drive the next wave of innovation in patient engagement technology,” he said. “And fortunately, because these kinds of things have been deployed in almost every other industry, they’re not so difficult to imagine.”

The real innovation: Vertically organized groups

One way to address cost is by coordinating across the ecosystem of providers and making delivery smoother, Newman said. The real innovation here is vertically organized groups that do insurance, acute care, ambulatory care, ancillary care and home health, he said.

“Payers are building up this capacity and some notable providers are doing this as well,” he explained. “For those that are independent, as well as those that are already integrated, the key will be to bring all of these data and engagement experiences to bear on every other one. The way this looks in the world is that everyone has information, access and visibility into the process of everyone else.”

"Fortunately, because these kinds of things have been deployed in almost every other industry, they’re not so difficult to imagine."

Joshua Newman, Salesforce

The technology here is aggregating across organizations and sharing workflows, he said. Where EHRs only really address a single organization, technologies like a healthcare cloud can bring together multiple parties, he added.

On the experience front, few patients complain about their medicine, procedures or studies – everyone complains about scheduling, lack of cost transparency, lack of visibility into process, and the emotional toll of feeling disconnected and unsupported, Newman said.

“Technology may have the biggest role here as simple things like scheduling apps, workflow tools, and people who are available via multiple channels to answer questions and concerns, make the difference,” he said. “Just as travel, banking and retail industries have made using their products and services frictionless, healthcare will increasingly adopt and improve its ability to share information, solicit feedback and data from patients and others, and analyze all of this to return insights and recommendations on improvement.”

The problem of experience isn’t complex, it’s just that for so long, few cared about it – there’s a well-worn path to improve these things and it is coming to healthcare.

Lifestyle support and changes

Finally, with outcomes from lifestyle support and changes, this is the domain that will make the most impact on human health and society and it will grow directly from the above two, Newman said.

“If costs are contained namely from expensive and less impactful interventions, and experience can be improved thus strengthening the relationships between patients and organizations, the natural domain of activity will be prevention and health improvement,” he said. “The technologies that will support this are already here. We see it in Weight Watchers and similar successful behavior change programs. We see it in online mental health services and telehealth that can provide care and support at far lower costs and higher convenience.”

Omni-channel messaging technology innovations will be well-known to the industry: Video, chat, e-mail, phone and more can give messages to those striving to make healthier choices and address mental health precursors of bad decisions, Newman said. And technology that supports caring for older people with chronic and terminal conditions, such as end-stage kidney, heart or lung disease as well as dementia and other cognitive diseases, will help these people, he said.

"As a foundational step for next generation patient engagement, healthcare providers must anchor a patient engagement solution with a holistic and omnichannel identity graph."

Heidi West, Acxiom

On another next-generation patient engagement front, the amount of data being generated under the umbrella of health and wellness is staggering, and connecting providers to their community at the right time, in the right way, and with the right message and value is critical, said Heidi West, vice president of healthcare, Acxiom marketing solutions, at Acxiom.

“As a foundational step for next-generation patient engagement, healthcare providers must anchor a patient engagement solution with a holistic and omnichannel identity graph,” she said. “Without an identity graph that takes into consideration the data assets that reside at the individual and household level, as well as the attributes and patient information, the solution will fail to create the multichannel engagement strategy that drives patient engagement and differentiates the provider’s or payer’s offerings.”

Personalized education

Resources available in multiple languages and formats will be crucial to next-generation patient engagement efforts, said Eastwood of Chilmark Research.

“Population health, as well as any related value-based care effort, can only succeed when patients understand their condition or diagnosis, as well as how it will impact the care that they receive and the way they go about their day-to-day lives,” Eastwood said. “Effective educational resources present information in small doses so patients can view them when it is convenient for them, and in written, video and audio formats so patients can learn in the format that best suits them.”

On the back end, applications should be able to monitor patients’ progress, either by tracking the resources that patients have viewed or by quizzing patients on the information that has been presented to them; this way, care teams can make changes to the resources that they share or even the care plan goals that they have set, he concluded.

Next-gen technology

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Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com