Patient engagement IT market changing, slowly, with the imperatives of consumerism

As providers seek to improve the patient experience and engage patients for better health outcomes, a KLAS report explores how vendors' claims square with health systems' priorities.
By Mike Miliard
10:31 AM

If healthcare providers are now placing more emphasis on quality patient experience than they used to, the art and science of patient engagement has been a key priority for many years.

And for many years, it's been presenting hospitals and health systems with challenges, as they aim to thread a unique needle: investing in the right technologies that will reach the right patients in the right ways.

"Patient engagement is one of the most complex and overwhelming areas of healthcare IT that KLAS measures, involving dozens of relevant HIT capabilities and a slew of vendors claiming to offer them," as the research firm explained in its new Patient Engagement Ecosystem 2019 report.

Ideally, engagement tools such as online portals and smartphone apps will also offer an optimal user experience. Patient portals do the job in a basic way, of course, but could most clearly be improved. Better-designed UI, more creative functionalities and easier connections with regional HIEs are just some suggestions experts have proposed, to say nothing of the frustrating but widespread phenomenon of "multi-portalitis."

With its new research, KLAS says is hopes to "cut through the noise in this chaotic market," it says. Unlike most of its usual reports, which are based around customer reviews, this one focuses on vendors' own claims of their products' strengths.

The news research seeks to make a clear-eyed assessment of how those promises actually align with the patient engagement and experience goals of provider clients. Among the "most common customer outcomes as reported by vendors," according to KLAS, especially – given our focus this month – those related to improving the patient experience:

  • Increased Patient Satisfaction/HCAHPS Scores (71%)
  • Reduced No-Show Rate/Maximized Provider Schedule (35%)
  • Improved Clinical Outcomes (21%)
  • Increased Patient/Member Engagement (13%)
  • Improved New Appointment Rates/New Patient Acquisition (13%)

Analysts found that, generally speaking, two types of patient-facing tech did well: either "multi-product suites that cover all or nearly all patient engagement needs" or "narrower offerings that are focused on areas of high purchasing energy."

In other words, simple patient portal deployments may have worked in the decade-ago early going of baby-steps digitization and meaningful use incentives – but they're hardly enough these days for health systems hoping to boost engagement for their population health management efforts, let alone creating a competitive advantage with satisfied customers.

Here's just a sampling of what KLAS had to say about some of the products offered by leading IT vendors. The full report can be accessed here.

It notes, for instance, that while companies such as Allscripts, CipherHealth and GetWellNetwork "took different development paths, each has multiple patient engagement solutions that are at least fairly well aligned with provider organizations’ priorities."

Allscripts' FollowMyHealth includes a portal, as well as outreach tools, thanks to its 2018 HealthGrid acquisition. The self-developed suite from CipherHealth has kiosk, outreach and rounding tools that have been recognized by category leaders by KLAS. GetWellNetwork’s "claimed capabilities stretch across most tracked areas."

The report points out that, while Cerner and Epic also have an array of engagement technologies on offer, "customers primarily engage patients through their portals."

Which is not ideal, at least when it comes to patient experience, since – as KLAS analysts point out, along with plenty of others, for years now – "patient adoption of portals is typically limited."

That's "due partly to usability challenges" – the aforementioned multi-portalitis, to name just one. But those concerns aside, from the health system perspective, KLAS notes that "the self-reported capabilities of vendors that offer portals are some of the most closely aligned with provider priorities, such as bill pay and patient self-scheduling."

The report notes that EHR-tethered portals such as Epic’s MyChart are augmented by CRM and IPS offerings. Cerner (portal, IPS) is working to "augment current capabilities through internal development and partnerships with partnerships with Salesforce, GetWellNetwork, and Uber Health," analysts point out.

Meanwhile, "athenahealth and NextGen Healthcare claim to meet most needs," according to the report. "Hospital-focused capabilities such as service recovery, environmental controls, and entertainment/programming are gaps for athenahealth and not on the road map for ambulatory-focused NextGen."

That's great for the providers themselves. But bigger picture, "as vendors continue to develop functionality to meet the wide array of capabilities desired by provider organizations, the question remains: how patient-centric is patient engagement?" KLAS analysts ask. "Provider organizations looking to prove the value of their technology investments are more likely to seek tangible measurements that promote provider outcomes rather than patient-specific needs."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.

Focus on Patient Experience

This month, our coverage will continue a special focus on the patient experience. We'll talk to the thought leaders and first-movers reimagining the how and where of patient-friendly tech, and report on ways to activate, if not delight, the people they treat.