Docs need to make consumer engagement a priority

Kyra Bobinet says physicians must learn how to better collaborate with their patients
By Eric Wicklund
10:08 AM
Patient and doctor with tablet

Kyra Bobinet, MD, says a doctor can look at all the vital signs, test results, images and assorted assorted other EMR data and still have no idea how to treat a patient.

"That's not real life," she says. "That's not how to care for people."

In other words, that's not engagement. But that is where healthcare is failing to connect with consumers.

Bobinet knows what she's talking about. As CEO of the behavior design firm engagedIN and a consulting faculty member on the neuroscience of behavior change at the Stanford School of Medicine, she devotes all her time to, as she puts it, "cracking the code of why we engage in our health."

That's what she'll be discussing on day two of the HIMSS Media/Healthcare IT News Patient Engagement Summit, scheduled for Oct. 12-13 in San Diego. Her opening keynote, "The Rise of Consumerism and the Evolution of Patient Engagement," will take a closer look at how healthcare providers "need to think of themselves as an evolutionary process" in helping consumers make better health choices. 

[Learn more: Meet the speakers at the Patient Engagement Summit.] 

And here's a news flash: Technology – especially mHealth technology – might be great in helping bridge that gap between the consumer and the provider, but all the latest tools and toys aren't solving the engagement puzzle.

"The actual live experience can't be understood" through technology, she says. "The problem is the technology has not evolved enough to be anything more than an amplifier."

Think about it. Thanks to more sophisticated smartphones, smartwatches, wearables, smart devices in the home and car and a healthcare platform that can connect with them, clinicians have access to all the physiological data they need to determine what's making someone sick. But they don't know why that person might be getting sick, and they don't know how to talk to that person about health and wellness.

"Doctors are (suffering) from data overload," Bobinet says. "They're protecting themselves with data, and they forget just how to relate. To (the consumer), though, all these numbers are a reflection on my experience, but they're not my actual experience. So while doctors lean on the technology, it erodes the quality of caring for people."

Bobinet's advice to providers? Start slowly. This is a layered process, she says, and one that doctors and consumers have to take in small steps, or "engagement landscapes." Doctors need to understand that consumers are the designers of their own experiences, and figure out a way to collaborate with them on their health management. It's a tricky path, she says, and one that requires compassion rather than empathy.

It's also tricky, Bobinet says, because consumers may be expecting too much from technology. They buy all the latest phones and watches and self-monitoring tools in the hope that they'll be motivated to live healthier lives, "but you can't buy motivation."

"People are leaning on all this things and giving up their own power," she adds.

So that intersection where the technology ends and the eye-to-eye contact begins is the key to consumer engagement, for both patient and doctor. And it's all about collaboration.


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