5 ways to fuel patient engagement

'We can’t just say we need more and more people engaged, we need to have particular targets'
By Tom Sullivan
09:09 AM

There's little question that patient engagement is one of the most promising trends in healthcare today.

Indeed, the potential – in terms of cost-savings, personalized patient care and healthier populations – is unmatched.  The reality, however, is that the industry has a long way to go before reaching the Holy Grail of patients harnessing technologies to own their own healthcare and more effectively interact with caregivers and clinicians.

Those were the overarching themes at the HIMSS and Healthcare IT News Patient Engagement Summit in San Diego this week.

Among the takeaways are these five things that need to happen for patient engagement to move from the abstract to the concrete:

1. It's time to end information asymmetry. Why? "It's a burden," according to Danny Sands, MD, and it must be displaced, pronto. The problem is that patients and providers don't have the same information very often – let alone at the same time. Sands didn't stop there: "We have this visit-based system that developed 100 years ago. People didn't develop chronic conditions, everything was acute. That doesn't make sense in a world of chronic conditions." No one said it would be easy but Clark Kegley, assistant vice president for information services for Scripps Health, pointed out that "patient engagement is not how much money I can make in the next 30 minutes. It's how much of an impact I can have over the next 30 years."

2. Less engagement, not more. Neither blaming, nor shaming, nor bombarding patients with reminders is going to elicit the manner of behavior changes that improve outcomes. Instead, doctors must make it easy for patients without actually doing everything, said Douglas Hough, an associate scientist and professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We can't just say we need more and more people engaged, we need to have particular targets." Consider Hough's analogy to automobiles: Car travel has become less dangerous in the last few decades but that's not due to "driver engagement" – it's because we've made cars and roads safer.

3. Understand what really matters. Forget clicks on a website, downloaded apps, log-ins, or how much time patients spend on a device. The most critical factors are emotion and motivation, said Kyra Bobinet, MD, a consulting faculty member in neuroscience for the Stanford School of Medicine and CEO of engagedIN. "Behavior always dominates technology," Bobinet explained. "If it doesn't resonate with how you actually feel about it, it's going to miss you. Healthcare is so much more emotional than an iPhone."

4. Design matters but senses are the real opportunity. "You can have the most beautiful design, your patients can be gaga about it, but if clinicians don't buy-in, those patients will never see it," said Jennifer Pearce, health literacy program manager at the Sutter Center for Integrated Care. That's why McCann Health puts an emphasis on engaging people's senses rather than telling them how to do something. Patient experience experts "call it insight mining … the rest of us call it talking to people," said Nancy Ruddy, vice president of patient engagement at McCann Health. "We let patients guide us from their experience to what they really need."

5. The natural next step: hard science. Despite all the shiny new objects and buzz around the idea of engaging patients, or perhaps because of them, "right now patient experience suffers because it seems like a soft science," said Jonathan Slotkin, MD, medical director of the Geisinger in Motion program. "Applying the same reproducible rigor for quality improvement work to patient experience will make it a hard science," Slotkin explained. "It is imperative that we can make it resemble a hard science." Slotkin anticipates that getting underway in three to five years.



Here's what happened

Patient engagement tips from the pros
Making patient engagement a hard science
Patient engagement: 'Behavior dominates technology'

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