Vendors lagging with patient engagement technology

Healthcare must move beyond EHR-tethered portals
By Mike Miliard
10:08 AM
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Doc and patient Sistine Chapel

Despite conditions across the healthcare industry that should be driving big changes in between-visit and post-discharge communications, most providers are still doing the "bare minimum" with regard to patient engagement, according to a new report from Chilmark Research.

Advances in mobile and cloud technologies, consumerization of care delivery, meaningful use incentive payments and a broader move toward value-based reimbursement would seem to be creating ripe conditions for more fruitful engagment initiatives. But Chilmark's 2014/2015 Clinical Patient Engagement Market Trends Report shows a healthcare industry "still struggling to catch up with basic consumer expectations set by banking, airline and other major consumer industries."

[See also: Patient engagement means 'attitude adjustments' on both sides]

Part of the fault for that lies with vendors, the study shows, since many healthcare organzations lean heavily on their technology providers to help drive their patient outreach projects.

"The majority of today's market is operating at a kind of standoff: 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," said Naveen Rao, author of the report, in a press statement.

[See also: Patient engagement: Are docs doing it all wrong?]

"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."

Vendors profiled in the Chilmark report include: Aetna/iTriage, Allscripts, Axial Exchange, Cerner, Dossia, Emmi Solutions, Get Real Health, GetWellNetwork, Influence Health (MedSeek), McKesson/RelayHealth, MedFusion, Microsoft HealthVault, NoMoreClipboard and WebMD.

In his report, Rao found that basic patient portals, usually tethered to electronic health records, are still the basic tool for most patient-provider interactions.

Chilmark found a mixed market for new approaches to clinical patient engagement, where some provider organizations have yet to adopt even these basic patient portals, others have begun piloting advanced, "smart" tools.

Still, it seems clear that patient engagement remains a lower priority for most providers as they work toward building analytics capabilities, mastering risk-based contracting and other projects aimed at laying the groundwork for better population-based health management, according to Chilmark.

For those organizations looking for better engagement tools, Chilmark points to several vendors – including some with backgrounds in information exchange or customer relationship management – that are finding footholds with products untethered from EHRs.

Still, even with this group, most offer limited or no mobile-friendly technologies or advanced care planning applications, Rao finds. Other tools that have found success so far – from standalone mobile tools to interactive inpatient platforms, "do not represent complete, end-to-end solutions," according to Chilmark.

That suggests an emerging best-of-breed approach, the report argues, where providers will pick and choose multiple vendors in an effort to meet the diverse clinical and business needs across different departments and patient populations: "No one technology vendor has shown an ability to do it all."

The Chilmark report profiles 14 vendors of clinical patient engagement solutions, rating them on both the completeness and sophistication of their product offering as well as their performance in serving the provider segment of the healthcare industry. Most of them "fared poorly in creating longitudinal records" and offering the mobility most consumers expect.

"While the patient portal reigns as the default engagement platform, we are seeing a blossoming industry full of novel techniques, innovative technologies and even some fresh ideas for how to keep patients involved in their care," writes Rao in the report.

"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 record," he adds. "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."

Nonetheless, while these newer approaches "are being piloted in dozens of pockets around the country," Rao writes, "entering 2015, more comprehensive deployments remain elusive."

Access the report here.