Day 2 at MGMA17 started very early for exhibitors when the doors to the exhibit hall opened sharply at 6:30am Pacific Time. It was clear that MGMA organizers were catering to the early-rising-east-coast contingent of attendees. Thankfully there was a warm breakfast with plenty of caffeine options available.
The early exhibit hours provided a unique opportunity to slowly browse the floor and read booth signage fully without being blocked by fellow attendees walking in the aisles…and in some cases without being blocked by company representatives in the booth itself.
As I walked around the exhibits I began to notice that the words “Patient Engagement” appeared frequently. EHR companies, revenue cycle management companies, call center providers and even HR consultants had this nebulous term emblazoned on their booth properties. I thought it would be interesting to ask a few of these companies how they interpreted patient engagement and how they saw it evolving over the next three years.
Josh Weiner, Chief Operating Officer at SolutionReach, was quick to say “Patient Engagement is more than having a portal on your EHR”. He believed that the key to engaging patients was communicating with them in an easy, convenient manner. “For SolutionReach, this means texting. Everyone knows how to text and it’s just so simple to use. A few years ago texting patients was just one-way. Doctors would send a text to a patient and that would be it. More recently companies like SolutionReach introduced the ability for healthcare providers to conduct one-to-one conversations with patients via text. We call it SR Conversations and we have over 4,000 clients using it.”
In the future, Weiner predicted that providers and patients would continue to use SMS texting as the primary means of patient engagement. The key difference is that instead of just sending text messages back and forth we would be sending mini-text-applications back and forth. He cited the example of the latest iOS upgrade which now featured the ability to send a map, a Starbucks gift card and other such applications within an SMS message. He foresaw a day when we will have the ability to send a prescription, a lab test, a referral and an appointment schedule to a patient via SMS.
At BinaryFountain, a company that makes a platform that consolidate patient feedback from multiple social media sources as well as from HCAHPS surveys and allows providers to publish positive comments made in those medium as online reviews, they define patient engagement through the lens of reputation management. Engaged patients mean they are more likely to provide a positive comment and if they provide a positive comment, they are more likely to rate the doctor/practice/hospital highly. That, in turn, leads to a better reputation which attracts patients who are more likely to be engaged in their care. In the future, the company believes that quantitative measures for patient engagement will be developed and that these measures will be used in a similar way that the 5-star rating system is used today.
West Communications is a provider of telephony solutions to a broad range of industries. In healthcare, West offers a number of patient communication tools that engage patients via phone, email, and text. They define patient engagement as the degree to which a patient is active in and adherent to their care plan. They saw a bright future for patient engagement – especially as technologies from other industries are adapted to healthcare. The West team, for example, has been working on adding AI-based intelligent IVR capabilities to their healthcare IVR solutions so that inbound calls from patients can be automatically triaged quickly based on needs.
At Stericycle Communication Solutions, Sarah Bennight, Healthcare Strategist, defined patient engagement as getting patients to be active throughout their care journey. “Patient engagement creates trust between patients and providers. It’s more than just pushing information out to patients, it’s true two-way conversations that are relevant to where the patients are in that moment. It means providing patients with useful calls to action – clicking on a button to book their next appointment, download information or connect with the right clinician.”
Bennight sees a patient engagement future that includes new forms of communication through platforms like Snapchat and iMessage. “The younger generation communicates in different ways. They’ve gone beyond voice, text, and email. Healthcare will need to adapt to these new forms of communication. We may even need to develop a healthcare nomenclature for communicating information via emoji’s and giphies.”
Finally, Varun Hippalgaonkar, Senior Vice President of Growth at HealthGrid suggested that patient engagement is the sum total of all the interactions that a patient has with their healthcare providers including face-to-face visits, phone calls, text messages, telemedicine, and emails. The key for Hippalgaonkar was not to try and engage patients across all channels, but rather to zero in on the communication modalities that each individual patient preferred.
“HealthGrid is striving to be the single communication platform for all pre-, day of and post- visit patient interactions. Our platform will provide a consistent patient experience in the communication channel or channels that patients prefer to use. We mine our own interaction data to determine the best way to interact with patients. For example, the analysis of past interactions may reveal that John Smith responds better during weekday mornings via text message and seems to prefer phone calls at night. When a hospital or a practice has the information they want to share with John, they simply put the content in our system and we handle how it will be delivered to him based on his known response patterns.”
Down the road, Hippalgaonkar saw patients interacting with AI-powered chat bots that were so sophisticated that patients would feel they were interacting with a person. These bots would work across the different communication channels providing a consistent experience no matter what modality the patient elected to use.
Hippalgaonkar summed up by saying: “In the end it’s all about motivating patients to make changes to their health or put another way, to engage in their health. We can only achieve this if we communicate with patients in a way that compels them to take action. As an industry, we need to build technologies and processes that takes things down to the individual patient level. We need to use AI, machine learning, personalization and deliver meaningful information to patients so that they are compelled to make a change.”
From these conversations, it was clear that patient engagement meant different things to different people. Yet everyone agreed healthcare needed more engagement and more involvement from patients in order to deliver on the promise of better health at lower cost. Motivating patients to become more involved is not going to be easy, but if the MGMA17 exhibit hall is representative of HealthIT overall, the future is certainly bright for patient engagement.
Full Disclosure: Solution Reach and Stericycle Communication Solutions are both sponsors of Healthcare Scene.