Patient Satisfaction News

Can Online Collaborative Chats Foster Patient Engagement?

Researchers have found that online chats can facilitate patient engagement and care coordination, helping providers individualize their approaches to their patient needs.

By Sara Heath

A space where physicians, patients, and caregivers can all communicate personally might be the next big thing in patient engagement and care coordination.


While this approach sounds a whole lot like what can happen in a doctor’s office, researchers say digital communication tools can help bring these capabilities anywhere.

In a recent article published in JMIR Human Factors, a research team led by Amna Husain, MPH, MD, discussed a prototype tool called Loop. Serving as a chat-room style space for patient, providers, and caregivers to all communicate, Loop is proving that patient engagement can be fine-tuned to each individual consumer.

The evidence supports collaborative care as the keystone to chronic disease management, the patient and caregiver as integral partners in care, and communication as central to achieving these objectives,” the research team explained.

“While users are not provided with specific instructions, Loop is designed to encourage them to communicate questions, updates, and clarifications about care plans. Loop allows team members, including the patient, to indicate their preferences and check their understanding of the care plan.”

The research team conducted a prototype session during which users – which included providers, caregivers, and patients – expressed usability feedback.

The most notable piece of feedback stated that there should be a provider-only space within Loop. While all of the participants advocated for this kind of a system, they also agreed that there should be additional options for provider-only communication to facilitate internal coordination.

This finding was somewhat counterintuitive considering the literature which advocates for complete transparency of health information and the sharing of physician notes with patients. Despite those claims, the researchers and prototype participants found that there were also downsides to 100 percent provider transparency.

“Despite these benefits, the authors report parent and [health care provider] concern about negative emotional responses and confusion that may result from technical discussion and the need for ‘pre-rounding’ or ‘re-rounding’ away from patients and families to have uninhibited conversations,” the researchers noted.

In other words, study participants stated that it would be less confusing and more beneficial for providers to have their own spaces to collaborate, while maintaining a separate space for all members of the care team to communicate, as well.

The research team found that Loop helped work toward meeting conflicting needs in patient engagement. While providers need to adequately discuss detailed clinical information, they must also meet the needs and preferences of their patients. The prototype phase of the Loop study showed that providing two spaces for communication allowed this to happen.

Loop must be able to accommodate the different considerations that govern communication between HCPs versus communication between patients and HCPs,” the researchers said. “At the same time, it must provide the flexibility to engage patients in their plan of care.”

Ultimately, the study findings emphasize the trust most patients have in their physicians. While patients do want to be engaged in their own healthcare, they also trust that their providers will work in their best interests.

While patients want to be engaged in health care decisions, they trust their clinicians to have the knowledge and skills to arrive at and propose appropriate options for care,” the team stated.

The research also suggests that providers need to adapt to different environments depending upon the patient. Each Loop was different and displayed different patient-provider relationships.

“Each Patient Loop is expected to be a self-regulating microenvironment based on the characteristics, context, and behavior of team members,” the researchers concluded. “It is expected that team agreements and roles will change and evolve over time through interactions in Loop.”

Going forward, the researchers plan to undergo several other iterations of Loop to develop the design in an end-user focused, patient-centered way. By ensuring that this tool is focused on the end-user, the researchers say it can function better as a care coordination and patient engagement facilitator.


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