- Amidst the plethora of patient engagement initiatives healthcare professionals faced in 2016, three areas drew the most provider focus: patient satisfaction strategies, the use of mHealth, and patient portal adoption.
To account for policies such as meaningful use and the Merit-based Incentive Payment System, healthcare providers explored the opportunities and challenges surrounding patient portal adoption.
And as they saw the patient demands for a positive healthcare experience – and the financial repercussions if those demands were not met – providers worked to establish a set of strategies to improve patient satisfaction.
As we head into the New Year, PatientEngagementHIT.com takes a look back on the ten most popular stories of the year.
With hospital environments an integral part of patient experience, the American Hospital Association developed a guidebook to help practice leaders and managers ensure facilities are up to standard.
The publication, Improving Patient Experience through the Healthcare Physical Environment, introduces hospital leaders to the people, process, and place strategy. This entails improving interpersonal relationships between patients and staff, efficient policies and procedures in the facility, and the physical hospital environment.
The people portion of the strategy calls for strong bedside manner from all hospital staff. AHA says all providers should show empathy to their patients, and support staff should focus on hospitality and patient comfort.
The process aspect involves different hospital policies, such as quiet hours and how providers are paged from room to room. According to AHA, these processes can affect patient comfort levels by hindering rest time or comfort levels.
The place component includes room temperature and noise level control, as well as comfort and other hospitality-oriented features. The guidebook notes that these amenities, while not directly related to health, can have positive effects on treatment outcomes.
Patient satisfaction is a growing patient engagement trend, specifically in light of its role in high HCAHPS scores.
HCAHPS – the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey – is a part of providers’ payouts for the Inpatient Prospective Payment Systems and other reimbursement programs. Therefore, providers must improve patient experience and HCAHPS scores not only as a part of quality care initiatives, but to receive full Medicare reimbursements.
Developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), HCAHPS surveys are comprised of 18 questions addressing patients’ hospital experiences, four items to direct patients to certain questions, three questions to compensate for varying patient demographics, and two questions to address Congress-mandated hospital quality reports.
A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research showed that low levels of patient health literacy – the ability for patients to read and understand health-related materials – can impact digital health technology use.
The researchers first administered a survey to test patient health literacy, finding that 16 percent displayed low health literacy and the remaining displayed adequate health literacy.
From there, the researchers administered a survey regarding patient health IT use. Twenty-eight percent of respondents had used a fitness app, 34 percent had used a nutrition app, 33 percent had used an activity tracker, and 42 percent had used a patient portal.
Fewer patients with low health literacy reported using health technology, the researchers found. For example, nearly 26 percent of patients with low health literacy had not used a patient portal, while 45 percent of those with adequate health literacy had.
These findings, as well as findings indicating that those with lower health literacy did not find health technology usable, suggest a new approach for health IT developers.
“Given that more health-literate users still appreciate the simplicity and approach of interventions designed for lower health-literate users, a focus on design and usability for lower health-literate users would benefit all users,” the researchers explained.
As mHealth technology grows within the healthcare space, patients and providers alike are turning to it to improve engagement with healthcare.
Patients have taken some initiative with mHealth, adopting fitness and nutrition trackers and other self-management apps into their lifestyles. Some patients are even adopting technology that helps with mental and behavioral healthcare needs.
Providers are also assigning apps to help their patients manage their own care. Between remote patient monitoring devices, medication adherence apps, and weight loss tools, these technologies are helping patients and providers stay in touch and collaboratively manage chronic health conditions.
Patient satisfaction continues as a significant patient engagement trend, with healthcare professionals working to define specific practices that contribute to a positive patient experience.
In an interview, Press Ganey’s Deirdre Mylod, PhD, explained that patient satisfaction is less about making patients happy and more about reducing adverse hospital-related events.
“The way that we approach improvement for patient experience measures is to reframe it. The exercise is not to make consumers happy. The exercise is to reduce patient suffering,” said Mylod, who is Press Ganey’s Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation and Senior Vice President of Research and Analytics.
According to Mylod, providers need to be more attentive to patient needs, making sure they are responsive to call buttons, working to reduce negative patient safety events, and meeting expectations of specific patient populations.
With providers seeking to activate their patients in their own care, they are turning to various different strategies to improve patient engagement. For example, at Baltimore-based MedStar Health, hospital leaders are turning to new appointment scheduling to ensure patients are appropriately matched with the right patient.
Other hospitals are turning to ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft to ensure their patients are able to get to their doctor’s appointments.
Additionally, some healthcare organizations, such as Apollo Endosurgery, are turning to telehealth to help patients access their doctors and follow-up treatment. Telehealth enables providers at Apollo Endosurgery to communicate with their patients about their follow-up care following weight-loss procedures, making the care encounter more convenient and therefore more satisfactory for patients.
“What we’ve found is patients are much more willing to, from the convenience of their home or sitting at their desk during their lunch hour, do a virtual consultation over the internet with a trained nutritionist, or tell their physician how they’re feeling or get a message from their physician in terms of how they’re doing with their new therapy,” said Apollo Endosurgery President Dennis McWilliams in an interview.
CMS released both draft and final rules for MACRA implementation and the Quality Payment Program, asserting that reporting for the program will begin in January, 2017. With the publication of those rules, eligible clinicians sought tips on how to successfully report to the program, and how the programs will improve their patient engagement levels.
Overall, MACRA implementation will affect patient engagement through the Merit-based Incentive Payment System, under which eligible clinicians will need to report several care coordination and data access measures.
For example, eligible clinicians must offer at least one unique patient view, download, and transmit capabilities with her health data during the reporting period. Eligible clinicians are also required to offer patient-specific educational materials to patients and engage in care coordination activities with third-party providers for at least one unique patient.
Healthcare organizations and individual clinicians are also turning to alternative methods to improve patient engagement. Through social media, some providers may be able to activate their patients in their healthcare and disseminate important educational messages.
According to HIMSS, social media is not an appropriate vehicle for direct patient-provider communication. However, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can be useful to generally remind patients to ask their providers questions, to get a flu shot, or log into their patient portal.
HIMSS says social media platforms will not only build a stronger communication and education base, but will help for a sense of community between patients and providers, potentially improving satisfaction.
“No matter if it is fitness, chronic conditions, or serious illness, care requires community,” HIMSS says. “Social media extends our community to new relationships, whether through Facebook, secure patient communities, or open online forums. We can connect beyond our immediate four walls yet share a common health bond with others in remote and urban areas.”
Healthcare professionals are facing an increasing imperative to adopt patient portals into their practices. Between patient engagement requirements in meaningful use and general calls for more patient-centered care, these tools are proving necessary for providers going forward.
Patient portals can be instrumental in improving patient engagement. Between their appointment scheduling, direct messaging, and lab result viewing capabilities, these tools can serve as a central location for patient activation in healthcare.
As providers consider adopting a patient portal into their practices, they are likely weighing the pros and cons of the technology.
For example, patient portals have several functions that make it easier for patients to interact with their care and their providers, including secure direct messaging and viewing their lab results. However, some providers are wary of security issues and are nervous the technology may increase their workloads.
With patient portals and patient satisfaction dominating this year’s headlines, it is clear that healthcare professionals are looking at multiple sides of patient engagement. While they are focused on meeting regulatory requirements in meaningful use and MIPS, they are still focused on ensuring a positive patient experience.