Tech optimization: Pushing patient engagement farther

Today it is key to engage patients with their providers and their healthcare. Five patient-engagement-technology experts offer best practices to heighten use of the IT.
By Bill Siwicki
12:27 PM
Tech optimization: Pushing patient engagement farther

Healthcare-provider organizations always are looking for more and better ways to engage with their patients in efforts to improve care delivery and patient outcomes. It is important for caregivers to have full and active partners in patients for successful healthcare.

To help caregivers and provider organizations in these efforts, there are all kinds of healthcare information technologies. But they are not plug-and-play solutions. They must be understood and optimized to offer an individual organization the best results for that particular institution.

In this special report, five patient engagement technology experts – from BioIQ, Experian Health, Qure4u, Salesforce and Vivify Health – advise readers, offering best practices for optimizing this brand of health IT.

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Procuring and analyzing data

One best practice is to determine how to tackle procuring and analyzing data before selecting technology channels that leverage the data, said Jason Considine, senior vice president and general manager for patient experience solutions at Experian Health, a vendor of data-driven platforms to help healthcare organizations with, among other things, patient engagement and care management.

“Today it is important to consider not only the tools for patient engagement but what is powering the effectiveness behind them,” he said. “There are many engagement solutions in the marketplace. However, providers need to reach patients with information that is tailored to their specific needs and situations, made available via channels they want to use. Before any of this can happen, you need access to the right data.”

"Providers need to reach patients with information that is tailored to their specific needs and situations, made available via channels they want to use."

Jason Considine, Experian Health

Data can help a provider organization better understand its patient population. For example, an organization can assess a patient’s financial profile and determine if a custom payment plan may be best, to better acknowledge their unique financial situation. Or, an organization can create accurate price estimates for services and send it to patients before services are rendered, providing more clarity and eliminating the mystery around what they will owe.

“These examples improve the patient experience and create an environment where patients are less stressed about paying their bill,” Considine stated. “You also can create engagement strategies based on various factors such as age. For example, if a majority of patients are seniors, perhaps appointment reminders via text and e-mail would be an effective communication method, versus relying on an online portal that requires them to remember to check for the information.”

Prioritizing interoperability

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, Chief Medical Officer and general manager of healthcare and life sciences at IT giant Salesforce, said that in order to optimize patient engagement technology, providers should continue to prioritize interoperability with existing or soon-to-be-used technologies to set end users up for success.

“Patient engagement technologies are only as impactful as their ability to provide a true 360-degree view of the patient,” she asserted. “A holistic view of the patient requires insight into not just their medical history and information, but also all of the touch-points they’ve had across the organization, whether that be digital, over the phone or in person. And this information needs to exist in one, singular view in order for it to be useful.”

"Patient engagement technologies are only as impactful as their ability to provide a true 360-degree view of the patient."

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, Salesforce

But all of the vital information and data required to supercharge patient-engagement technologies traditionally live in separate, disparate systems of record, apps and platforms. That is why it is critical for healthcare organizations to continue to prioritize interoperability between their patient engagement technologies and other existing technologies (for example, the EHR) or soon-to-be-used technologies (for example, apps), she said.

“It is important to be forward-thinking and to have integrations ready to go as new technologies are introduced to a hospital system,” she explained. “Optimization of patient engagement technologies in the future will require organizations to enable interoperability between their patient engagement technology and leading-edge data sources – for example, SmartPill, IoT devices, chips – so organizations should start thinking about this now.”

Additionally, especially with new interoperability rules enabling greater patient access to their own medical data, it’s vital that healthcare organizations are focusing critically on their interoperability capabilities, she said.

“This sharing and aggregating of data across apps and platforms is not only beneficial on an individual case basis – between patient, provider and/or call center agent – but can help organizations scale the impact of their patient engagement technologies by generating data-driven insights and recommendations across populations,” she said.

Dynamic content

It is important for healthcare organizations looking to optimize patient engagement IT to develop dynamic content that changes when an individual’s needs and goals change. One-size-fits-all healthcare simply does not work, said Eric Rock, founder and CEO of Vivify Health, a remote patient-monitoring technology and services vendor.

“For example, the vital sign readings of a patient who is being monitored for congestive heart failure may begin showing signs that indicate a risk of developing diabetes,” he explained. “This information can be processed by intelligent-pathway logic that automatically adds pre-diabetes educational content for that patient.”

"Healthcare organizations should look at data to determine which delivery mechanisms work best for each patient, and adjust accordingly."

Eric Rock, Vivify Health

One of the big keys here is delivering only the information that is relevant to an individual, he added. Many programs fail because they broadcast a single message when that message only has meaning to a small percentage of the patients, he said.

“Look at COVID-19,” Rock suggested. “It’s been pretty well established that the greatest direct health risk is to older patients with preexisting conditions. The message to that segment of the patient population should be very different from the message sent to healthy individuals under the age of 50. Within the under-50 crowd, the message may need to be different for patients who have young children versus those with no children, versus those whose children are young adults.”

Understanding these differences gives the messages more relevance, which means they not only listen to this message but pay more attention to subsequent messages, as well, he added.

“Healthcare organizations also should look at data to determine which delivery mechanisms work best for each patient, and adjust accordingly,” he said. “This presumes that the information is available in different formats, of course. Some people prefer videos. Others prefer written materials in bulleted form that basically just tell them what they need to do, while others respond better to more detailed information that offers explanation of why those things need to be done.”

The same goes with the delivery method, for example, receiving the content over mobile devices or tablets versus PCs and laptops, or even printed materials. Engagement is all about discovering what will move an individual to action and then delivering the content in that way, he advised.

A feedback loop

Another best practice for optimizing patient engagement IT is for healthcare provider organizations to create a continuous feedback loop, said Zenooz of Salesforce.

“Organizations can’t optimize their technologies without understanding the experience of end users,” she stated. “That’s why feedback is critical. Patients can offer the best feedback on usability of the technology and can provide direction for future releases. Structure opportunities to solicit feedback from patients, whether that be a digital survey or focus group; and insure representation from all age groups, ethnic groups, proxy caregivers, etc.”

Beyond soliciting feedback from patients, keep a pulse on feedback from clinicians and end users, she added.

“Use assessments or roundtables to continually assess everyone’s perspectives and make sure that the organization is moving forward during times of change as a strong and well-informed team,” she said. “Also, it’s essential that feedback isn’t one-way. What you learn about the usability and functionality of your patient engagement technologies can inform the optimization of the other technologies that have patient touch-points.

“Don’t just focus on the typical wellness apps – diet, exercising tracking, remote monitoring devices, Apple Watch or Fitbit – and patient education. Expand your learnings to other areas like electronic billing, chatbots through an app, ordering food/coffee at the hospital cafeteria, and beyond.”

Perhaps the most important note about feedback is to actually use it, she remarked. Build cycles into your technology updates and releases that allow one to fail fast and pivot quickly, she advised.

The entire patient journey

Guided by a more holistic view of the patient population, providers should turn their attention to the entire patient journey and apply that insight, said Considine of Experian Health.

“A best practice is to develop a smooth process, end-to-end,” she suggested. “Patients are consumers, and they want convenience. Scheduling appointments, registering, price estimates and flexible options to pay for services – all are expected by today’s consumer. Unfortunately, there are many disconnected experiences in the market that offer pieces of these services, but do not create a connected journey.”

Smaller operations may offer just one component within the journey, such as setting appointments. CIOs need to consider how to meet consumer demands around convenience and solve for the entire journey in a cohesive way via partners that can handle engagement start to finish, he said.

“Thus, interoperability is an important component,” he added. “Patient engagement solutions should be convenient for not only patients, but administrative and clinical partners, too. For example, if you have an online scheduling solution that places patients in inappropriate appointments with providers, then providers, patients and administrators will blame the technology – in addition to having wasted valuable appointment time on the wrong patient.”

CIOs will want to deploy systems that simplify the life of providers and administrators, not create more overhead, he insisted. To that end, it is recommended to deploy one system so one can manage one integration point across systems, and across different capabilities, rather than several different connections, he advised. One wants to avoid piecing the patient journey together across multiple vendors, he said.

“Of course, the more engagement, the more data and analytics that providers can leverage,” he added. “For instance, you could track how many patient visits turn into booked appointments, identify the points at which patients drop out of the process and spot bottlenecks in your scheduling. The inbound capabilities of the solutions a provider uses can significantly optimize patient engagement, enabling the many resulting benefits – from patient satisfaction to improved collections results.”

Data sourcing and analysis of patient populations are powerful tactics that benefit the patient and provider, so CIOs should consider this, as well, when selecting a system, he said.

Evolving patient expectations

Justin Bellante, CEO and cofounder of BioIQ, a vendor of software that connects consumers with health testing, offers another best practice for optimizing patient-engagement technology.

“Most of our healthcare system falls short of the consumer convenience, access and experience achieved by other industries,” he stated. “Consumers want good care. They just have evolving expectations that make it difficult to engage the traditional health system as it stands today.”

"Consumers want good care. They just have evolving expectations that make it difficult to engage the traditional health system as it stands today."

Justin Bellante, BioIQ

To be effective, engagement platforms need to map care pathways to consumer behavioral preferences, he advised.

“Use consumer analytics to personalize engagement and a technology platform that configures and facilitates care navigation with a mindful eye on emerging delivery models such as at-home and retail offerings, as well as traditional care,” he said.

Vary the content of communications to appeal to what motivates patients as individuals, he added. Also vary the outreach medium (text, e-mail, phone or mail) to connect with patients on their terms, and at a frequency that is most likely to guide them to take action, he said.

The human element of health IT

Perhaps surprisingly, another best practice is making sure patients know there are real human beings behind all the technology, said Rock of Vivify Health. They need to know this is not just a robot providing automated, rote answers, but that their issues can flow up to a human care-team, depending on the risk level and their individual needs, he explained.

“People relate better to people than they do to machines,” he observed. “No one wants to feel like a number. One of the factors that make nurses so good at what they do is their ability to bring warmth and humanity to the healing process. When patients feel like there is someone there looking out for them, and build a relationship with that person, they are far more likely to follow their plans of care and take care of themselves.”

In other words, if patients upload their numbers and get an automated text or e-mail with instructions, they may or may not pay attention, he said. But if something happens and they receive a call from a nurse, they will be far more inclined to react positively and take the prescribed action, he said.

The consumer aspect

Dr. Monica Bolbjerg, CEO and cofounder of Qure4u, a patient-experience-technology vendor, concludes with a couple more patient-engagement-technology optimization thoughts.

“Remember that when you start implementing patient engagement you are no longer delivering technology to doctors, you are delivering technology to consumers – and it is completely different,” she said. “You can get away with clunky interfaces to doctors because they are used to it, but patients will not accept that.”

"You can get away with clunky interfaces to doctors because they are used to it, but patients will not accept that."

Dr. Monica Bolbjerg, Qure4u

It has to be quick, easy to get started with, intuitive to use, work on all platforms – and most important, one needs an all-in-one patient solution, she advised. One cannot have their patients download multiple apps; that will translate to low usage rates and low satisfaction rates, she said.

“Also, the technology has to be ‘invisible’ for the providers and staff, 100% integrated to the EHR, and work in the background without changing workflows for the providers or staff,” she concluded. “If you need to send them somewhere else, use single sign-on. Data should be integrated field-to-field and flow in both directions, so you can capture patient-reported data.”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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