The New Healthcare Consumer – Engaging Patients through Technology – Breakaway Thinking

The following is a guest blog post by Sara Plampin, Instructional Writer from The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Sara Plampin - The Breakaway Group
When you get sick, where is the first place you turn for help? In today’s technology-driven world, most people look up their symptoms online before they even consider contacting their doctor. In fact, Pew Research has shown that almost 75 percent of patients use the internet as their first resource for questions about their health. And why not? Online, there’s no need to schedule appointments or spend time in the waiting room – the answers are available instantly.

As the healthcare industry becomes increasingly consumer-driven, technology is one of the critical factors patients consider when choosing a provider. You can use many different tools to increase patient engagement, including patient portals, mobile apps, wearable devices, and social media. Because healthcare consumers are actively involved in all of these areas, a savvy organization will use several different means to engage new and existing patients.

Patient portals and mobile apps
One of the most important things to consider when adopting new engagement technology is your patients’ needs and expectations. Simply setting up a mobile app or patient portal is not enough if it does not provide the information or functionality that the patient is seeking. A recent survey suggests most hospital mobile apps fail because they do not address patients’ top three desires: electronic prescription refills, appointment scheduling, and access to their medical record. Successful apps appeal to consumers because they give patients and their families more control over their health. For instance, if patients have access to their medical record through a patient portal or EHR app, they can make sure the information is up to date and inform the provider of any mistakes. Families of elderly patients can use apps to check up on their relative’s health and communicate with their caregivers. These technologies will become a deciding factor for patients seeking a new provider.

Health and fitness trackers
Health and fitness trackers are another great tool to increase patient engagement. While providers recognize the benefits of increased physical activity, they tend to have mixed feelings about the amount and quality of data these devices collect. However, wearables can be a valuable engagement tool simply for their ability to get patients actively thinking about their health. Calorie trackers and step counters are useful tools for patient education, helping patients learn to improve their health by making small changes in their daily routines. There are also trackers to help patients manage chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. These apps can help ease the burden of health management by providing reminders and suggestions to patients, while allowing providers to keep track of their patients’ health remotely.

Social media
Consumers increasingly expect their favorite brands to have an online presence where they can share their feedback, ask questions, and learn more about the company. Healthcare should embrace social media as a tool to connect with and educate their community. Providers can use it to remind patients of the importance of sticking to their medication schedule or publish videos explaining common procedures and treatments. If patients see an organization as a relatable and trustworthy source of information, they are more likely to approach them with health questions and concerns. Social media gives your organization the opportunity to communicate directly with patients and help them discover the appropriate channels for their feedback.

Unfortunately, sometimes EHRs and other technology can actually become a barrier to patient engagement. A study conducted by JAMA Internal Medicine showed that patients are less satisfied with their care when providers use computers during the patient visit. Providers and clinicians must find a way to harmonize patient care and computer documentation. One of the best ways to do this, as suggested by Dr. Melissa Lucarelli at Medical Economics, is to “address the elephant in the room” by showing the patient the EHR. Instead of a wall dividing provider and patient, the computer can become a link between them, facilitating valuable conversations and empowering the patient to take charge of their health. Most of all, patients will feel more trusting of their provider, who made them a partner in their care.

No matter what methods your organization chooses to increase patient engagement, HIMSS recommends that all changes go through the analysis-implementation-optimization model. It’s not enough to simply set up a patient portal; you need to analyze your organization’s and patients’ needs, implement the application accordingly, review how it is being used, and make improvements. Make sure both staff and patients receive the proper education they need to get value out of the new system. As with all technology, new patient engagement tools require time, effort, and careful planning to achieve adoption.

Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts.