Getting down to business with patient engagement
Jan Oldenburg has been working on patient engagement since the mid-1990s. Back then, she said, there was an "ever-receding five-year plan" for when patients would finally have widespread access to their health records and be able to engage with them.
We're finally just about there – but not quite all the way.
In her Tuesday session, "What Do Consumers Really Want from Personal Health IT?" Oldenburg, senior manager in the advisory services practice of Ernst & Young, shared some insight from interviews she's done, with folks from all walks of life, about what the priorities should be for patient-facing technology.
"The high cost of disengaged consumers affect everybody," said Oldenburg. The U.S. suffers from an obesity epidemic. Tobacco-related diseases continue to be a public health problem. Only 50 percent of consumers get the recommended amount of exercise.
"It's a huge issue," said Oldenburg, who was the editor of the 2013 HIMSS book, Engage! Transforming Healthcare through Digital Patient Engagement. "And it's a community issue."
The good news is that patients have access they've "never had before," and there's been a wholesale "democratization of health information," she said. The tricky part now is for patients to get engaged with that data and be inspired to change their behavior.
Consumers are "expecting consumer-quality experiences in healthcare," said Oldenburg.
"It's really sad that we look to the banking industry as a model of innovation for us," she added. But there's no question that it – and most other consumer-facing industries – are leaps and bounds ahead of healthcare when it comes to offering easy, intuitive access.
Consider Mint.com, she suggested, which gives a consolidated view of financial information, regardless of how complex one's banking and investments might be.
"Are we doing that in healthcare? Not so much," said Oldenburg.
In an era where the technology is there for Amazon to offer tailored buying recommendations, or for retail stores to send ads targeted to specific products, it's time for healthcare to up its game if it's going to engage a population that's become so accustomed to such online experiences.
"That's where our competition is," she said. "That's where expectations are changing."
Samsung and Apple are entering the healthcare market, collecting and consolidating data. Google has piloted a program that can connect people who search for, say, knee pain to telehealth consults, Oldenburg pointed out.
In that landscape, providers need to do better than just a build-it-and-they-will-come approach to patient portals.
Because beyond meaningful use (which to the surprise of many, may soon significantly relax its patient engagement requirements), the business case for engagement is clear, said Oldenburg.
"Disengaged consumers are more than twice as likely to experience a medical error," she said. "Engaged consumers actually cost less. They pick less expensive treatment options, are more thoughtful about what's really important and tend to have fewer readmissions."
So far, however, the industry can do much better answering the needs patients have expressed to her in her research, Oldenburg said. For instance, "they don't want just phone and email." Some patients want to IM with their physicians; some prefer Facebook direct messages.
"But far and way the most important thing to people is having all their clinical data in one place," she said. "That concept of a Mint.com for healthcare. Nobody's doing a very good job helping patients get their records or consolidate them. Whoever figures that out and makes it simple is going to be a walkaway leader in the market."