Patient Engagement: What Does It Really Mean?

By PokitDok Team,

"New devices and tools that incorporate the technology and power of the now ubiquitous smartphone have the potential to become an extension of a patient's healthcare provider and may ultimately change the way in which patients interact with the medical system in the future."
US News Health

Patient engagement is becoming very important as consumers pay more attention to their health and wellbeing. Healthcare providers must adapt to this change and give patients the tools they need to stay informed and aware.

"Patients want to be engaged in their healthcare decision-making process, and those who are engaged as decision-makers in their care tend to be healthier and have better outcomes," writes HIMSS. There's an ever increasing demand for technology to make health information and records accessible, easy to understand, and relevant.

Technology is Enabling Patients to Make Better Health Decisions

Technology and apps are already making it easier for patients and providers to interact. Patients can send their vitals to nurses or get push notifications when they need to schedule a follow-up appointment. However, this is just scratching the surface  — better engagement, and the technology that enables it, will shape the growth of American healthcare.

Experts such as Margaret Anderson, executive director of the Milken Institute's FasterCures program, know how important this is. She put patient engagement right at the top of her list of medical research trends to pay attention to in 2016.

Mobile health specifically can create end-to-end patient experiences honoring health as a lifelong journey. This requires giving patients access to personal health records, having different systems work well with each other and a change in approach for healthcare professionals. "It's important that the provider treat the patient as more than just an obedient subject who's ready and willing to take whatever the doctor prescribes," says Healthcare IT News.

We are on the way.

Nurse on Phone

The Potential of Mobile Technologies

Consumer demand isn't the only incentive for healthcare engagement. Access to smartphones and tablets creates opportunities for healthcare providers to be more effective at what they do. Cardiologist Dr. Kevin Ray Campbell acknowledges that ever-increasing administrative demands make work more complex for healthcare providers. He writes at U.S. News & World Report that mobile technologies "are the future of healthcare."

"Patients are more Internet savvy and nearly 75 percent of all patients turn to the Internet for information immediately following a visit with a physician," he adds. "Technology promotes education and knowledge, and when patients are more informed, they are better able to manage their disease."

This is where information shared by healthcare providers meets the average consumers' existing habits of using their mobile devices all day — for shopping, checking email, social networking, and more.

"The key theme is to know your customer," says Dave Dimond at EMC Corporation, a global IT company that surveyed patient expectations. The company spoke with more than 200 healthcare providers in 18 different countries, reports Healthcare IT News, and the vast majority of those providers said patients have clear demands:

  • They want faster access to services.
  • They want 24/7 contact with their healthcare providers available across various devices.
  • They want their experiences with their provider to be "personalized."

Man on Phone

What Real Patient Engagement Looks Like

In responding to customer demand, healthcare providers must engage on the patient's terms. A survey by Accenture tells us what those terms are — and how few providers are currently meeting them. The study found found three main areas where consumers want to see improvement:

  • access to medical records
  • the ability to book, change, and cancel appointments
  • an easy way to request prescription refills

Very few healthcare providers have proved willing or able to deliver that kind of user experience. Hospitals, in particular, failed to meet those needs: Less than 2% of hospitals have their own proprietary apps for connecting with patients.

To engage patients, we need much more than an app that manages appointments and refills prescriptions. "Engagement is not a one-time event that you can cross off your list," Manivone Phommahaxay writes for Medullan, a company that helps conceptualize and create various digital health applications.

"Engagement ebbs and flows with the user's personal health journey, beginning with first contact, and continues to be a moving target over time. It happens on a personal level, by knowing the user, satisfying and anticipating their needs, and proving that you can deliver truly personalized, high value interventions, tools, and support to the individual user."

Phommahaxay's recommendations align with what researchers from the University of Michigan found regarding mobile health applications. Their research, available at The Commonwealth Fund, introduces a framework for understanding the levels of engagement a particular app achieves. At the most basic levels of engagement, the researchers identified features such as access to information and reminders. Higher levels included:

  • guidance based on a specific user's inputs
  • networks of communication and support
  • incentives for users to behave differently

A truly engaging experience will bring in data from a person's health record, and will coordinate with other systems to align those incentive structures across the whole spectrum of healthcare.

If we can achieve that, we're creating a more engaged health system for everyone.


images by: ©martinan/123RF Stock Photo, ©stockbroker/123RF Stock Photo, ©bialasiewicz/123RF Stock Photo

The opinions expressed in this blog are of the authors and not of PokitDok's. The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice.

  Tags: Healthcare consumerism