The new era of health care focuses on patient engagement as a way to reduce costs. Practically everyone in the industry agrees that patient engagement is important, yet there is no consistent definition.
A 2012 survey conducted by the National eHealth Collaborative (NeHC) revealed that some health leaders thought patient engagement meant using educational material and online resources to better understand their condition. Others who were surveyed thought it meant having access to their own health record or being comfortable enough to challenge their doctor when something doesn’t seem right.
The NeHC, a public-private partnership that promotes a nationwide health information exchange, offers a five-stage Patient Engagement Framework to guide hospitals and health systems in developing and strengthening patient engagement strategies through the use of electronic tools.
While a consistent definition of patient engagement remains elusive, the lack of consensus gives health-care organizations flexibility to experiment with different approaches, like the NeHC Framework, to meet their goals.
One thing is certain: Proactive, personalized outreach is key to patient engagement. Healthy patients need to focus more on disease prevention and wellness, while those with chronic illness will need more intensive care management.
Under health-care reform, patients have to take a more active role in their health care. Healthy or sick, most consumers need help understanding health-care information, according to the National Patient Safety Foundation.
Health literacy, or the ability to read, understand and act on health information, is an obstacle to patient engagement. More than 66 percent of U.S. adults age 60 and older have either inadequate or marginal health literacy skills. Patients with low health literacy make more medication and treatment errors, lack the skills needed to successfully negotiate the health-care system and usually have poorer outcomes.
The most effective outreach will tailor communication or intervention to patient preference, according to Leavitt Partners, a health-care consulting firm. Health literacy, socioeconomic status, age and comfort using technology are factors that influence preference.
Adopting EHR Technology
Technology has empowered consumers in nearly every part of their lives—from online banking and bill paying to social networking and entertainment—and now it’s enabling them to become more active in their health care.
Engaging patients to take a more active role in their health care is a central tenet of Meaningful Use, also called the Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program. The EHR Incentive Program provides payments to eligible providers—including hospitals and physicians—who use EHR technology and can demonstrate how it positively impacts patient care.
The Department of Health and Human Services reported in May 2013 that more than 50 percent of eligible providers had adopted or used EHRs. Experts say providers’ adoption of EHR is critical to transforming a health-care system to one that focuses on outcomes rather than services.
A recent HIMSS.org article says mobile health strategies will drive greater patient engagement and provider accountability—helping organizations stay plugged into every patient need. Consumers are increasingly turning to smartphone apps to help them manage their diet and fitness, and even measure their blood pressure. In fact, Apple recently introduced its own smartphone individual health solution app, HealthKit.
New mobile health monitoring devices such as wearable sensors that monitor the heart are constantly being introduced to the market. This technology benefits health-care organizations in two ways: 1) It offers another opportunity to engage and empower patients; and 2) The data can provide insight into population health and help drive health management strategies.
Patient engagement is not a new concept, but it’s certainly a current health-care buzz phrase. At the end of the day, the goal is to reduce costs while engaging consumers to proactively manage their own care. Achieving that will take a combination of old-fashioned human connection and innovative technological solutions.