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What should providers look for when choosing patient engagement technology?

Since any new system will affect clinical workflow, it is crucial that new tools either stand alone or integrate with EHR as seamlessly as possible.

Thanks to the proliferation of mobile technology, consumers have exponentially more health information at their fingertips today than they have ever had. Consumer-grade medical devices are being outfitted with increasingly sophisticated sensors, which collect volumes of data about diet, sleep, heart rate, temperature, blood sugar, and other personal health metrics.

At the same time, healthcare providers are implementing IT platforms to collect that information and use it to deliver higher quality care to patients more efficiently.

With all this innovation, we should be living in a golden age for healthcare. The increased flow of information should be bringing physicians and their patients closer together. But, unfortunately, this is not materializing the way it should. Physicians and consumers alike say they feel inundated by a flood of data and lack the tools to separate the clinically relevant from the superfluous.

This is not the scenario anyone had in mind when better data technologies began making their way into the healthcare system.

Data: A blessing or a curse?

Data technologies should be paving the way to better healthcare. Patients should feel empowered by the information they hold in their hands, while healthcare providers should clearly see the connection between more available data and better patient outcomes. But too many physicians and patients say they’re overwhelmed by all the information.

It seems that the data that should be enabling better care can, in fact, have the opposite effect. Without actionable insights, data can get in the way.

Such is the case according to Dr. Andrew Trister, an oncologist at the nonprofit medical research organization Sage Bionetworks. In an article originally published in MIT Technology Review, Trister states “I’m an oncologist, and I have these patients who are proto ‘quantified self’ kinds of people. They come in with these very large Excel spreadsheets, with all this information — I have no idea what to do with that.”

When patients feel overburdened with information, they disregard it. Many are turning off the flow of information by ditching their health trackers. When providers feel overwhelmed with data that isn’t actionable, they may delay implementation of new technologies that can facilitate conversations between physicians and patients.

Outcomes like these are a step in the wrong direction.

The pressure on providers

Patients always have the option to remove their health trackers or disregard communications from their physicians. Healthcare providers, however, are under pressure to use new technologies to form closer ties with their patients. Achieving quality outcomes means physicians need to learn a great deal about their patients, and how to keep their care plans on track.

The problem of providers drowning in data can’t be solved by simply shutting down the flow of information. Instead, they need to identify the right technology that will solicit information that directly influences better patient outcomes and more efficient care team delivery.

So, what should healthcare providers be looking for in patient engagement technology?

Technology solutions should sift through the vast amount of patient data and identify the exceptions that physicians want to review. By focusing on the right patient at the right time, physicians can improve outcomes and show their patients that they care. The right technology can produce significant reductions in adverse events, hospital readmissions, and total costs of care. But this doesn’t have to come at the expense of patients’ experience. Through empathetic and personalized content, providers are not only engaging with patients but earning their trust.

Focus on the fundamentals

Back in the day, physicians would make house calls, learning about their patients’ health through face-to-face conversations. Most physicians don’t do house calls anymore. But the information once gleaned from face-to-face visits is the same information physicians should demand from patient-engagement technology. Though the software involved may be sophisticated, the fundamental principle is as simple as ever. The important information—the actionable insights—will come directly from the patient.

As health systems decide whether or how to implement patient engagement tools, they should remember the house call. Instead of using technology that simply opens the floodgates of data, physicians should be looking for digital tools that enable an ongoing, genuine, two-way conversation with the individuals they treat.

Approaching today’s empowered patient

When patients feel overwhelmed by information pouring into their inboxes from their healthcare providers, it could be because it doesn’t seem relevant. But what if the patient knows the information is relevant, because it follows an actual check-in from their physician? Instead of sending messages that the recipient might regard as spam, what if health systems sent only the information that consumers request during regular check-ins?

Patients are far more likely to read materials and follow recommendations for which they have asked. Technology has empowered individuals when it comes to shopping, banking, and socializing; they’ve grown used to being in the driver’s seat, and they want that same feeling when it comes to their healthcare.

Patients want to be informed. They want the right answers at the right time, and they want them on their personal computers and mobile devices. Patient engagement must feature that personal touch and individual attention that the house call once offered.

Providers have other barriers to surmount

Healthcare providers need to consider how patient engagement tools can engage patients in a meaningful way. But there are other important considerations when it comes to implementing an automated system for patient engagement.

Since any new system will affect clinical workflow, it is crucial that new tools either stand alone or integrate with EHR as seamlessly as possible. Care teams need tools that improve coordination and communication and do not require extra time and effort. For this reason, health providers should seek out tools that are adaptable to variable readiness, staffing, and provider alignment.

Providers can face yet another barrier if their patient engagement tools are biased toward data that only measure outcomes among high-risk patients with chronic conditions or other specific segments of the population. A real system of patient engagement—one that will reduce readmissions, cut costs, and boost patient satisfaction—will treat all patients equally.

Providers should be picky about patient engagement tools

There are numerous systems for patient engagement available today, and providers have several choices. They should only choose a system that will:

  • Enable empathetic and personalized dialogues between physicians and patients;
  • Provide convenient, timely, and relevant information to consumers;
  • Stand-alone or integrate easily with EHR; and
  • Treat every patient equally

A system that falls short on any of these capabilities will likely fall short of meaningful engagement with patients. A system that does not do these things will leave patients and providers adrift in the same deluge of data that is frustrating them today.

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