- Healthcare technology may be the key to improving patient engagement, but what happens when the patient is a child? Pediatric patient engagement strategies, while very important, are more complicated than strategies for adult patients. As a result, providers may need to make special considerations.
Pediatric patients have different needs and different interest levels and understanding of their health, for example. They also come with the added foil of parents or guardians as their primary caregivers. When utilizing health IT as a patient engagement strategy, how can providers work with both caregivers and patients?
By striking a careful balance between parent and patient engagement, providers can utilize patient portals for group chats, and integrate engagement strategies using mHealth apps.
Establish patient portal habits that work
Patient portals are largely touted as game-changers for patient engagement. This can still be the case in pediatrics, despite the young age of the patients.
The key to establishing functional patient portal habits is understanding the needs of pediatric patients and their caregivers. According to one study investigating pediatric patient portals amongst children with asthma, very few caregivers are using the technology.
The researchers found that parents rarely adopted the portal because they did not see a sense of urgency. Over 90 percent of the children in the study were on an asthma controller medicine, which may have given caregivers the impression that the treatment was well-managed.
Many providers also lacked the infrastructure or protocol necessary to establish working relationships with pediatric caregivers through patient portals. When patient portals are not readily available for patients and caregivers, it is difficult for them to engage.
Establishing a knowledge base with caregivers and educating them on the uses and effectiveness of patient portals is key for providers to establish a positive digital rapport with patients.
At a certain point, patient portals should also include the pediatric patient. As children age into adolescence, it may be wise to include them in their own healthcare, making them engaged consumers early on. In order to do this, providers need to identify the right technology.
One study details a collaborative messaging technology call the Loop. This set-up enables chatroom-style communications between pediatric patients, caregivers, and providers. The Loop proves useful for care teams looking to incorporate both the caregiver and the pediatric patient into shared decision-making.
Offer mobile tools to foster patient engagement
Most pediatric patients are native technology users. mHealth devices hold great promise in improving patient engagement. By working to incorporate young patients in their care, mHealth can help drive care outcomes.
Earlier this year, NewYork-Presbyterian clinicians designed an app that offers pediatric patients a platform on which they can manage their own healthcare. The NYP Care Companion also hosts a platform on which caregivers can manage patient care.
“The application is aimed at improving patient health outcomes in one of the challenging areas for hospitals – outpatients,” the design team said in its online description of the app.
“With this app, NYP can increase the engagement of children that are diagnosed with a chronic condition, like diabetes, and their parents. It helps them to stay on top of the patient health statuses, reduce inpatient visits and educates them as they are treated.”
This app was a part of a larger contest hosted by NewYork-Presbyterian searching for pediatric patient-centered health devices. The contest’s runner-up, Teen Screen, helps engage pediatric patients battling depression.
Designed for users aged 12-18, Teen Screen asks patients about their depression and provides them with resources to better manage their care. The app also helps to connect patients with a doctor.
Engaging patients through mHealth tools – especially through smartphone apps – is key because it reaches them where they are likely most comfortable. Pediatric patient engagement apps give users the chance to communicate with their doctors and manage their own healthcare right beside recreational apps, helping them to integrate these healthy habits into their everyday lives.
As the healthcare industry continues to move toward patient-centered care models, it will be vital that no patient gets left behind, including pediatric patients. This will require providers strike a careful balance between engaging children and caregivers.
Health IT offers tremendous opportunity to work with both pediatric patients and their caregivers. As more IT developers continue to build various platforms, providers will be able to identify new solutions that help them in catering patient engagement to both the caregiver and the child.