PatientEngagementHIT

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What Is the Role of Connected Health in Patient Engagement?

Connected health and digital health tools have the power to enhance patient engagement, patient access to care, and patient empowerment.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- As healthcare technology continues to permeate the medical industry, experts are continuing to evaluate how connected health tools can impact patient engagement and the overall patient experience.

As noted in a 2013 study in the International Journal of Medicine, connected health includes a broad set of definitions.

“Connected Health encompasses terms such as wireless, digital, electronic, mobile, and tele-health and refers to a conceptual model for health management where devices, services or interventions are designed around the patient’s needs, and health related data is shared, in such a way that the patient can receive care in the most proactive and efficient manner possible,” the researchers explained.

Top connected health tools include telehealth, remote patient monitoring tools, wearable technology, secure messaging tools, mobile apps, and other digital tools that help connect patients to their providers.

Connected health is useful because it bridges the gaps between patient, provider, and patient health. Connected health has received much praise in recent years, with healthcare experts saying these tools can revolutionize the patient experience with care. Entire connected health departments have emerged in hospitals across the country, and increasingly organizations are investing in their own connected health tools.

READ MORE: mHealth Games Can Improve Patient Education about Health Payers

But how exactly does connected health impact the patient? What are the benefits these tools have on patient care and patient experience?

Although connected health touches on a large number of patient care points, providers can look to two central patient experience domains: patient access to care and patient empowerment. Through various modalities, connected health tools improve patient care access and self-efficacy, working to deliver on central tenets of patient engagement.

Connected health supporting patient access to care

Foremost, connected health allows patients to connect with their medical providers more quickly and conveniently than ever before. One top tool for digital patient care access is telehealth.

Patients and providers alike can use telehealth through two central modalities. First, patients can use direct-to-consumer telehealth, on which they speak to their providers using video conference. From there, providers conduct an analysis and usually provide a diagnosis and treatment plan.

READ MORE: How mHealth Technology Supports Patient Engagement Strategies

Second, providers can connect with one another to share consults, expertise, and knowledge during patient care. For example, a provider in an urban, free-standing emergency department might consult a clinician in a larger, city-based hospital. The hospital clinician may have knowledge, equipment, or specialist expertise that the rural provider does not, making the telehealth consult ideal for patient care.

Patients have reported high satisfaction with telehealth, as the technology makes it easier for them to access basic healthcare needs on convenient technology platforms. In some cases, it allows patients to access care when they otherwise would have gone without.

In fact, patients are asking for access to telehealth more and more, showed a June 2017 survey from the Advisory Board. Seventy-seven percent of patients have requested access to some sort of telehealth because the tools increase their access to care.

Although telehealth is growing in popularity, it is certainly not the only form of connected health that supports better patient access to care. Secure messaging tools (many of which are hosted on patient portals) allow patients to message their providers when they have a medical question.

Secure messages are not stand-ins for provider care, but they can mitigate patient concerns. In some cases, secure messages can let a patient know that they do not necessarily need to visit the doctor’s office, saving both patient and medical industry time and money.

READ MORE: mHealth Presents Opportunities for Improved Patient Engagement

Driving patient empowerment with connected health technology

Benefits of connected health go beyond the logistical factors – they also improve the way patients interact with and perceive their healthcare. When patients manage their own health using connected health tools, patient empowerment and self-efficacy increase.

Improved patient empowerment is usually the result of using wearables, remote patient monitoring devices, or diet and fitness apps (although self-efficacy improvements are not limited to those tools).

The above-mentioned technologies put patients in charge of their own care. For example, a fitness wearable helps a patient set her own fitness goals and track her progress toward those goals. A remote patient monitoring system will alert a diabetic patient when his sugars are too high, allowing the patient to make is own adjustments.

Increases in patient empowerment occur because these tools directly connect patients with their providers’ efforts to improve wellness, according to David Albert, MD, founder and CEO of AliveCor, a mobile ECG technology developer.

“We’re entering a new phase of patient centricity,” Albert said in an interview with mHealthIntelligence.com. “Patients are becoming more and more responsible for their own healthcare, and that creates opportunities for engagement.”

Connected health tools make patients accountable for their own health actions by providing an immediate view of where patients are falling short on their wellness path. Connected health can also help patients adjust their efforts.

Surveys have found that patients are intrigued by connected health tools because they help promote self-efficacy. A 2017 Accenture survey found that patients want convenient access to care, better patient education, and avenues to manage their care on their own.

Patients say providers are in charge of delivering these tools but are currently falling short. Only 21 percent of providers have offered their patients access to connected health, patient respondents said. This comes despite the fact that 44 percent of patients said they’d use connected health at their provider’s behest. Thirty-one percent of patients said the same of payer encouragement.

But as healthcare professionals continue to see the benefits of connected health, they are continuing to adopt these tools into their practices. Seventy-one percent of providers have adopted telehealth, for example. More providers are looking into how patient-facing tools can enhance patient care experiences as well.

With the rising tide of consumerism in healthcare, providers are likely to continue their foray into connected health. These tools will allow patients to more easily and conveniently access their care while playing a key role as an arbiter of wellness.

 

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