Making patients the 'True North' of care

By Tom Sullivan
01:21 PM

Within Geisinger Health System is a department of clinical innovation — not to be confused with its leading-edge IT shop — that drives much of the network’s patient engagement efforts.

“For those of you wondering how I fit this into my day job, I don't. It is my day job. I get to think about innovation 80 or 90 percent of the time,” Chanin Wendling, director of eHealth at Geisinger, said on Tuesday here at HIMSS14.

Despite being steeped in innovation, much of it involving patient engagement, Wendling is realistic about progress. “Although I think we’ve done a lot of really cool stuff in this space, we’ve barely scratched the surface.”

Among the reasons: The healthcare industry has not adequately conveyed the value of proactively managing one’s own health to the broad patient base, according to Doug Fridsma, director of ONC’s Office of Science and Technology.

Whereas people with chronic conditions tend to be a captive audience, perhaps the larger opportunity lies in getting relatively healthy people to practice prevention. But that might be changing.

“There’s a rising tide of expectations about what consumers want,” said Micky Tripathi, CEO of Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative.

Patient engagement “will be more relevant going forward because it’s the right thing to do, and because payments are going in that direction,” added Geeta Nayyar, MD, CMIO of PatientPoint, which offers patient and physician engagement products. “It’s already happening with meaningful use stage 2 and stage 3, accountable care.”

All that said, there are legal, technological and regulatory barriers to ubiquitous patient engagement — though Fridsma, Nayyar, Tripathi and Wendling were all optimistic that we will get there albeit potentially in novel ways not yet recognized.

Yet there is still the matter of how to actually get there.

“If we keep the patient as our True North,” Fridsma said, “I think we will chart the right course.”