3 ways tech can help patient engagement

By Benjamin Harris
12:35 PM

As patients gain more access to their medical information and care providers electronically, the healthcare world stands to see improvements in patient engagement. Whether or not providers and patients can make the most of this opportunity depends largely upon the usability of these electronic systems.

Sterling Lanier is the founder of Tonic Health, a company that develops EHR software and patient record systems with a focus on ease of use. Lanier says his goal is to tackle hard-to-use medical history software and resolve the errors that these poorly-generated records can generate. A confusing checklist handed to a patient on a clipboard that they must fill out with little or no guidance can mean incomplete or inaccurate data being returned to the physician. His focus is making technology that combats these issues, and speaks to the power of mobile systems' ability to facilitate patient engagement.

Lanier spotlights three ways technology can facilitate patient engagement.

1. Improved data access, via the cloud. "Cloud computing is the whole big thing here," says Lanier. "It's the idea behind Blue Button." He asserts that the brilliance is in "allowing patients access to the stuff they've already bought," likening the older model to a patient buying music from an online store, listening to them once, and then never getting them back. He says that cloud-based systems mean that everybody, including patients, have continuous access to the most up-to-date and relevant information about their health. Lanier says that this level of access is "going to accelerate" patient engagement because they are being "given tools that enable [them] to interact with the system in a way that adds value."

Just how much value? Lanier says studies have shown that when handed an iPad and asked to fill out a patient history form, patients are "so engaged that they fill out 40 percent more than needed ... it feels like their data is actually being used for something." Doctors can access the information instantly and "serve up relevant content to me based on [their] answers."

2. Improved accuracy and communication. Patients "will tell the system more intimate things than [they] will tell a human, especially around sensitive things like sexual or emotional issues," Lanier notes. Providing information within the veneer of privacy goes a long way to help people free up information about themselves, but getting patients to believe that it is for their benefit is another key element. "People never did the whole clipboard thing because it was just filed away and never used. With [a mobile device], people feel like it's being used."

3. Usability and openness. "Healthcare doesn't need to be boring and confusing," says Lanier. As more and more electronic data-capturing systems are integrated in to a healthcare environment, he says the industry can switch to a more preventative care based approach, which he contends will save the healthcare system huge amounts of money. "The patient needs to be an active participant in their own healthcare."

But these technologies can't gain widespread use until they're usable. "Usability in EHR is going to be the next big thing," says Lanier. "That is a brave new world for a lot of providers; usability can impact the bottom line and patient care in a meaningful way." A system that is used all day by medical staff as well as hundreds of patients in an office must be well-designed and intuitive for all who come in contact with it. Lanier notes that an average physician visit is eight to 10 minutes. "Shouldn't we try to optimize that visit and only talk about the stuff that matters? Instead of spending six minutes trying to figure out what's wrong, then four minutes on treatments, why not use the data to spend nine minutes talking about the solution?"