Using Health Information Technology to Improve Patient Engagement
By Paul Edge, Senior Consultant
Patient engagement has been on a lot of lips the past few years but has mostly been given lip service. While “patient engagement” solutions are increasing and expected to reach $34 billion in 2023, they have been met with tepid response from both providers and consumers — despite their promise to reduce costs and improve outcomes. Part of the challenge is that the glitz of the technology is obscuring a very simple truth: patient engagement is really about connecting the right people at the appropriate moments. While we are still early in the consumer health information technology (health IT) life cycle, how can we use it to more actively engage patients? How can health IT improve their experiences and outcomes across the continuum of care?
Drivers for change. The need for taking patient engagement to the next level comes at an interesting convergence of legislation, patient demand, payment mechanisms and technological innovation. Drivers for change include:
Barriers. On the face of it, patient engagement sounds appealing and simple as a concept. As always, the devil is in the details. Barriers to adoption include:
Six trends to take patient engagement to the next level. Point-of-Care Partners (POCP) believes the following six trends will move the patient engagement needle forward in the near future.
1. Data analytics. The rise of new reimbursement models and the massive amount of clinical data contained in EHRs will create a need for data analytics. This structured approach will be essential in helping providers manage patient populations and zero in on individual patients at risk. This will help providers meet their cost and quality targets. At the same time, analyses will help form the backbone of targeted patient engagement strategies.
2. Improved access to patient data. As mentioned previously, demand is growing for access to patient data. Stakeholders are beginning to respond. In the private sector, for example, the CommonWell Health Alliance recently announced that eight EHR and portal developers will enable patients at their provider clients to access their health data, allowing them to self-enroll in the network, link their health records from different care providers and view their data across the network. On the public side, the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has been proactive in helping patients gain better online access to their health records. For example, the agency garnered pledges in February from hospital systems and health IT developers to improve consumer access to health records and not block access to data. The latter has been viewed as a problem in the marketplace. All health care organizations pledged to share patient records. ONC hopes for a progress check in the next few months.
3. Longitudinal view of patient care. Organizations are moving away from the “one doc, one patient, one disease” model to a world of shared decision making and a longitudinal view of patient care. Health IT and patient engagement will be key to connecting the dots along the continuum of care.
4. Rise of consumerism. Expect to see more consumerism in health care. In fact, one organization called 2016 the year of consumerism. Providers are now reorienting toward patients as consumers and emphasizing their connections with community. There are several reasons for this trend. First, providers are taking to heart consumers’ demands for convenience and value because they improve care and outcomes. Those are, after all, mission-critical objectives for everyone. Second, they are responding to payers’ new reimbursement models linking payments to quality and patient satisfaction. Third, the patient experience has value and can create competitive advantage. Finally, patients, themselves, are seeking value for their health care dollar, especially now that millions are purchasing their own insurance and experiencing high — and escalating — out-of-pocket costs. These costs were masked when insurance was more of an employer-paid benefit.
5. Demand for connectedness. Consumers are demanding to stay connected with everyone, everywhere, anytime — with technologies customized to their needs and pocketbooks. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that solving the patient engagement problem is all about technology. It’s also about meeting consumer expectations of getting and staying connected in an increasingly connected world. Uber is a good, well-known analogy. The company has invested in a lot of technology, but at the end of the day the valuable piece is connecting one person with another at just the right time. The same principle holds true in health care, for which the useful tools and interesting business models will be about connecting patients and providers at the right moments.
6. Impact of demographics and technology diffusion. Adoption of patient engagement tools will be impacted by demographics and the normal speed of technology diffusion within a market, which generally takes 10 to 15 years. We are still very early in the availability of consumer health care technology, including patient engagement tools. That means there is room for the market to grow and mature. At the same time, the oldest members of the “Gen Z” generation are beginning to have children, and this generation demands technology to stay connected and engaged. As a result, demographics will move the needle for patient engagement in the long run. Taken together, demographics and technology diffusion will create a sizeable patient engagement market in the future. Estimating the size of the market may be challenging, however. For one thing, there is no single definition of patient engagement, which often is used synonymously with population health. They are related but different: patient engagement is an important piece of population health. That’s one reason why the patient engagement market may be underestimated. One analysis puts this at $34 billion in 2023 or only around $100 per person in the US. We think that number is too low and the market potential is considerably greater.
There’s no doubt about it. Increased patient engagement facilitated by health IT will continue to change the ways patients and providers interact. Let POCP keep you updated about the latest trends and players in this evolving landscape.