Patient Data Access News

Patient Portals, mHealth Top 2016 Patient Engagement Trends

Providers looked at how health IT can support patient engagement imperatives, such as meeting value-based care reimbursement models.

By Sara Heath

With value-based care coming to the forefront this past year, healthcare professionals have turned to patient engagement strategies to improve care outcomes and cut healthcare costs. In doing so, a series of trends emerged in 2016.


Between patient portals and mHealth technologies, health IT has been top-of-mind for healthcare providers this year. And as incentive programs such as the Merit-based Incentive Payment System and Stage 2 and Stage 3 Meaningful Use approach, providers are ensuring they have the knowledge and the technology for successful attestation.

Below, discusses these trends and the way they presented themselves in 2016:

Patient portal adoption

Federal incentive programs are calling for better digital communication between patients and providers, and so healthcare professionals are turning to patient portals. Throughout the course of the year, providers have investigated patient portals from all angles to determine if the tools are right for them and figure out how to encourage their patients to enroll.

READ MORE: mHealth Use Hinges on Patient Perceptions of App Efficacy

When weighing the pros and cons of patient portal adoption, providers looked into the communication benefits the technology brings. When patients and providers can communicate with one another about health concerns outside of the office, they can mitigate minor health issues while experiencing an added layer of convenience, said David Clain, manager at athenaResearch.

“In a lot of cases, patients secure message their doctors and ask, ‘I’ve had this concern about chest pain or a rash that won’t go away, should I come into the office?’” he said to earlier this year.

“A lot of times the answer is ‘no,’ and you can address a lot of concerns a patient has just through secure messages and they don’t have to come in.”

However, providers had some concerns about the technology, as well. Storing patient data on yet another tool offers yet another place a hacker can attempt to penetrate to steal patient information. Additionally, many providers worried the messaging options on the patient portal would lead to increased workflows, one study in the American Journal of Managed Care showed.

Providers also grappled with difficult patient buy-in as they attempted to get their patients to register for the portal. Through various case studies, health IT experts have shown that strong hospital marketing and provider testimonials may be successful strategies for improving patient portal adoption rates.

READ MORE: Patients Seek More Support with Chronic Disease Management

Patient satisfaction

According to a May survey from Vocera, hospitals prioritize patient experience and patient satisfaction now more than ever. These effects can be felt with an increase of chief patient experience officers in the workforce and more efforts to determine patient satisfaction best practices.

Other healthcare professionals are trying to find the true definition of patient satisfaction in an effort to provide the best experience for their patients.

According to Deirdre Mylod, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation and Senior Vice President of Research and Analytics at Press Ganey, patient satisfaction needs to move past simply making patients happy and toward reducing patient suffering. Healthcare professionals can do this by being attentive to each individual patient’s needs, and working to mitigate issues such as falls and fragmented care coordination.

“When we say patient experience, it’s not in addition to quality, it’s not if we have time after we’ve gotten care right,” she said. “Patient experience is that safety and quality. It is what patients think of their care. It’s how efficient and effective care is.”

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Patient engagement and federal policies

Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) reporting officially starts on January 1, 2017.

Under MIPS, eligible clinicians primarily need to extend patients access to their health information through view, download, and transmit capabilities. In the first reporting period, they must offer this to at least one unique patient.

Eligible clinicians will also need to offer patient-specific education materials, secure direct messaging capabilities, care coordination, and health information exchange capabilities. Additionally, MIPS calls for eligible clinicians to collect patient-generated health data from at least one unique patient.

Stage 3 Meaningful Use is also optionally beginning after the New Year, spurring hospitals to prepare for the new requirements.

Stage 3 Meaningful Use requirements likewise center on patient access to health data, as well as third-party access to data through application programming interfaces (APIs) and patient generated health data.

Eligible hospitals must attest to two of those three measures, and eligible providers must attest to one of those three measures. They may also attest a hardship exemption where applicable.

Patient engagement and mHealth

Increasingly, providers are recognizing that patient engagement does not start and end in the doctor’s office. Instead, it is an ongoing effort that requires patients to constantly interact with their health. Some providers have turned to mHealth to make that process more convenient for them and their patients.

Many studies have shown that mHealth can be effective in improving patient medication adherence, for example. One study, published in April in the American Journal of Managed Care, showed that cell phone apps can help remind patients to take their medications and help keep them organized, ultimately supporting chronic disease management.

Other mHealth tools, such as activity trackers, are also catching on not only with providers, but with patients as well. A September Ketchum survey found that nearly half of patients use mHealth apps to track fitness and nutrition. Of those users, 87 percent check in with the app at least weekly.

While mHealth use for patient engagement may have been a big topic for 2016, healthcare professionals urge providers to be wary of which tools they suggest to patients. Two reports from the Commonwealth Fund have shown that mHealth can only be effective in improving patient engagement if the apps are usable and target all kinds of engagement.

When application interfaces are confusing and difficult for patients to use, patients might simply stop using them, one study showed.

Another Commonwealth Fund study showed that most apps don’t meet all of the benchmarks to provide a truly engaging experience for patients. While some apps may have excellent educational sources for patients with low engagement, they fall short in communication and incentives for highly engaged patients.

As 2017 unfolds, healthcare professionals will continue to see value-based care requirements. As a result, patient engagement will continue to be a priority. With a new healthcare administration, new requirements, and new trends, providers may be poised to carve out new trends in the New Year.

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