Patient engagement and the devices, tools, and communications systems that support it have become some of the most important concepts in the healthcare space.
By carefully implementing and directing the use of patient portals, medical devices, and the consumer-focused healthcare Internet of Things, providers are able to drive patient engagement not only with more finesse inside the doctor’s office, but keep it going outside of the office. Here are some of the best technologies to do so:
Not surprisingly, patient portals are one of the most important healthcare technologies for creating a patient engagement strategy. These technological innovations give patients the opportunity to get more involved in nearly all aspects of their healthcare from the comfort of their own homes, making it easier for them to stay engaged with their health.
Patient portals are particularly beneficial to patients because they give them a window into exactly what is going on with their health. These online portals allow patients to take a look at their own health records, helping them to understand the conditions they may be managing or what kind of treatment their providers gave them when they were last sick.
Research shows that patients who are able to view their health information have an overall better sense of ownership of their healthcare. They are able to glean knowledge of their health from their portals and put it to use at future appointments, and many patients report feeling empowered in being able to do so.
Inpatient mHealth devices
While mHealth devices and digital tools are significant in maintaining patient engagement outside the walls of the doctor’s office, they also play a role in engaging patients and improving their care while in the hospital.
Some of the most successful hospitals and health systems in the healthcare space are starting to realize this, and are introducing mHealth devices to patients within the hospital to help promote patient engagement and introduce them to the patient portal.
“At Mercy Health, technology helps us drive better care for our patients and also allows our patients to talk with us directly and take steps to manage their own care,” said Rebecca Sykes, chief information officer at Mercy Health. “Our rollout of a bedside tablet featuring the patient portal in our inpatient facilities allows patients access to their own hospital data, such as biographies of their care team, medication interaction information and test results. This latest option for accessing electronic data has improved patient education and satisfaction.”
Patient engagement experts agree that in-hospital health technology is critical in patient education. Marcia Cheadle, RN, senior director of clinical applications at Inland Northwest Health Systems (INHS), says that providers need to be proactive in educating patients while on site. Otherwise, patient engagement falls by the wayside for many patients.
“By having more patient involvement, that activation of the patients in their care journey, their longitudinal healthcare journey, we’re really looking to leave behind that unilateral decision-making, that white coat paralysis that happens to all of us when go in to see the doctor,” Cheadle said in an EHRIntelligence.com webcast last August.
Using in-house technologies to explain patient portals, along with other important health information such as treatment plans or chronic illnesses, is crucial in hitting the point home with patients.
“What if instead I said to the patient as they leave the emergency room in my discharge process, ‘hey, let me show you where your information is on your portal.’ What would that look like?” Cheadle said.
Wearable Internet of Things devices and mHealth apps
Wearable devices, sensors, and other tools that make up the Internet of Things aren’t just cool techie toys that people can use to track their steps – they are becoming a mainstay in the healthcare IT space by giving patients several options for monitoring their health concerns.
While fitness apps are certainly popular, wearable devices are helping to revolutionize all aspects of healthcare. Just recently, Carolinas HealthCare implemented an app platform that can integrate data into patient care. By integrating the data from several different kinds of wearables – from step counters to blood pressure cuffs to scales – this app helps patients look at their health and take action.
“Our app is basically just an aggregator of all the information you’ve already entered,” said Craig Richardville, Carolinas HealthCare’s chief information officer. “What this does is give it context and make it more meaningful.”
Wearable devices empower patients on several different levels, first by making them the primary aggregators of the health data and then allowing them to make health decisions based off of that data.
Patient-physician messaging tools
Communication between the patient and the physician, both in the doctor’s office and out, is critical in keeping the patient informed and engaged in her own care. As the healthcare industry has entered the digital age, technology is helping boost discussion.
The primary tool for patient and physician conversations is patient portals. The technologies often come equipped with secure messaging features that allow patients to message or email their providers with a question about care. Providers are then able to address the issue, allowing the patient to mitigate it on her own or visit the doctor for more extensive care.
Naveen Rao from Chilmark Research says these messaging components are vital in delivering care that enhances patient engagement. Using patient portal messaging functions, providers are able to keep up with their patients between visits.
“Are you actually sending messages to patients between visits?” Rao said. “If someone comes in with lower back pain, you send them home with a pill and you never follow up… when it comes to advanced models of care, we can use email to do a lot. If the doctor isn’t doing simple things like sending a follow-up, then what’s the point of having this technology in the first place?”
While it’s important that providers don’t forget about forging personal connections with their patients, they must also keep an eye out for useful technology. The mHealth and health IT boom is opening new doors for care delivery that enhances patient engagement, and as payments continue to focus more on value than volume, providers will need to ensure they are following suit with high-level care.