5 points concerning patient engagement

By Michelle McNickle
01:37 PM
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With the slow demise of paper records and the rise of electronic platforms, the opportunity for patients to take hold of their healthcare has never been stronger. But, there are still a few setbacks and some points to keep in mind when it comes to health IT and patient engagement, said Sterling Lanier, CEO of Tonic Health. 

“You have medical forms and medical jargon built for the provider benefit and not the patient,” he said. “It’s confusing, tedious, and full of acronyms – it’s an alphabet soup. Patients feel lost. We want to make healthcare work for patients, and the closer we can get to a more accurate view of patient data, we’re better set up to change the way the model works and how people think about the model.”

Lanier identifies five more points about patient engagement and health IT. 

1. Historically, patient engagement has been dangerously low. Looking at patient engagement from a macro viewpoint, said Lanier, you’ll see the industry points from the inside, out. “I mean, the entire system is built around billing and reimbursement,” he said. “It doesn’t start with the patient and go backwards, which happens in most other industries … if Apple told you to get lost, for example, you wouldn’t want to [bring your business] there.” But, thankfully, the industry is starting to slowly to shift its emphasis back to the patient, said Lanier. “So an outward-in model, rather than an inward-out [model] – we’re trying to reverse that river flow and turn healthcare more into a consumer product.” 

[See also: IT alliance presses for patient identifiers.]

2. The need for patient engagement gives way to simpler designs. Having an engaging user interface, said Lanier, makes all the difference when it comes to patients. “How do we use the technology in a way that will engage patients?” he said. “Many doctors do a wonderful job of connecting to patients, but that’s 10 minutes in an hour or more of a visit. We’re trying to fill that remaining time, and we believe engagement starts with interactivity [using] a simple design.” Tablets and smartphones have played a large role in drawing patients in, while the attention is now being turned toward lower-income and non-English speaking patients. According to Lanier, the most current focus is on pairing graphics to help patients understand and better engage. “It’s about using technology to automate patient engagement [when they’re] not with a doctor.”

3. Patient engagement drives efficiency. When thinking about applications, Lanier referenced the potential for a fully digital patient intake form. “[It’s] the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “What can we do with that in terms of how we use the data and real time analytics to segment the population and make sure the right people have the right care at the right time.” Looking even further, this information and technology, without a doubt, said Lanier, can have a positive impact on clinical outcomes and reimbursement. “How can we use this so patients can report their own outcomes?” he said. “Patient engagement is the engine that can drive efficiency.”

[See also: IT aids chronic care program.]

4. Engagement needs to extend throughout the system. Once the patient is engaged, said Lanier, what about the other stakeholders? “We want to change how data is gathered, and we’re envisioning the way doctors and nurses [will] enter data,” he said. “It’s about engagement across the system. We should be trying to engage everyone and make it more simple – we want to take the complexity out of the complex.”

5. Engagement and workflows go hand in hand. According to Lanier, technology that integrates well into a physician’s workflow is most appreciated. “It’s about the psychology of their workflows and changing the mindset, as well as thinking about the patient workflow versus the physician workflow,” he said. “It’s important. How do we change perspectives to work with the patient?” Lanier looked back to his original idea concerning the industry’s shift from the inside out to the outside in. “It’s a key point,” he said. “We need to bring it in.”

Follow Michelle McNickle on Twitter, @Michelle_writes