The Patient Engagement Question
Patient engagement is a buzzword that has taken the healthcare industry by storm. The problem is that not only does it have various meanings in different contexts, but it is often a catch-all term for anything even remotely related to the patient experience.
Doctors, health IT professionals, and patients alike quibble over whose responsibility it is to get patients more involved. Proposed strategies range from wearable technology, telemedicine, doctor-patient portals, to social media outreach, but there isn’t much consensus on which is best. This confused state of affairs is exacerbated by the fact that Meaningful Use and the shift to fee-for-value payment models require demonstrable levels of increased patient engagement.
To be sure, it is generally agreed that patient engagement broadly refers to an increase in patient participation, cooperation, and collaboration in their healthcare. It is also agreed that proactive patient participation is needed in order to improve outcomes, efficiency, care customization and coordination, and prevention. In theory this is all well and good, but what does that end up looking like in practice?
Patient engagement has gone from rudimentary and unstructured in the dark ages before Meaningful Use, to a basic patient login as the bare minimum for Meaningful Use attestation. Over time and as Meaningful Use moved from Stage 1 to 2 (and eventually Stage 3), patients were able to access their electronic health records (EHR) online and view lab results. Moving forward, the definition of an engaged patient is trending towards standardized, centralized, automated, and digitized collaboration between a patient and their care providers.
But the challenge is still before us: translate this abstract concept – one obscured by ambiguity and disagreement – into organized and structured practice, and to cover the various facets of the patient experience along the way.
To solve this predicament, many healthcare organizations are turning to the patient portal – a one-stop shop where patients can review lab results, refill prescriptions, schedule appointments, view care plans, and collaborate with their care providers, all at the click of a button. According to a recent HIMSS survey, 87 percent of organizations offer a portal that enables patients to access their medical records, schedule appointments, and pay bills, and 82 percent said they engage patients through their medical website.
Of course, the patient portal is not a magic solution – its presence does not guarantee that a patient will actually use it. But if we extrapolate upon industry trends, it is the logical solution to the patient engagement dilemma. In order to encourage patients to take part in their healthcare, it is fundamental to provide the means for them to do so in the digital age. This way, whatever future transformations patient engagement inevitably undergoes in an evolving medical industry and ever-changing IT environment, medical practices with patient portals will be equipped to adapt accordingly.