Health IT Pulse

Nov 23 2011   11:06AM GMT

Improving patient engagement with (good) technology

CommunityManager Profile: CommunityManager

accountable care organizations
medical devices
patient engagement
personal health records

By Brita Van Fossen, Editorial Assistant

In recent weeks, the idea of collaboration has been fresh on the minds of health care leaders. The accountable care organizations (ACO) model, recently discussed at length at the Partners Healthcare Connected Health Symposium 2011, endorses the idea of collaborative care and communication among primary care providers, emergency service providers and patients themselves.

Patient engagement has the potential to significantly cut health care costs by giving patients more responsibility for their own care while in collaboration with doctors. This way the monitoring of conditions can take place from the home — taking away the need for unnecessary visits that cost both the patient and the payer money. In addition, advances in telemedicine technology will enable the collaboration to take place with little effort, which will allow for more consistent patient care.

Technology is a key factor in successful patient engagement. There are platforms already on the market, such as personal health records, or PHRs, which allow patients to view their records online. In addition, the recent symposium featured announcements for several new patient engagement technologies including mobile phone applications that allow family members to track the location and appointments of patients and robots used for online conversations between patients and health care providers.

Despite the proven effectiveness of patient engagement and the reality that the state of Maine has successfully incorporated patient engagement into its health information exchange, adoption of the practice is not nearly what it could be.

This lack of patient engagement is likely the result of numerous factors:

  • Although there are technologies for patient engagement, most are useless in regions without high-speed Internet access, which plays a critical role in the transfer of information. Even for those with Internet access, most PHRs can be only be edited by doctors– patients are able to view the records, but they are unable to change inaccurate information.
  • While there is technology in development to accommodate patient engagement, it’s expensive, and industry demand isn’t developed enough to make it fiscally feasible for patients or hospitals. The hope is that, with the adoption of the ACO model, the demand will increase, making technologies more readily available at a lower premium.
  • Additionally, by participating in care that is more collaborative, patients bear the burden of more accountability for their own well-being. When this reality is combined with other deterrents, it becomes hard for a patient to see the incentive of such a program. This is a big concern for industry leaders. Without patient approval, a patient-driven care model is not likely to succeed.

The answer for improving patient engagement could lie in the ACO model, which aims to provide a broader adoption of collaborative care and a functioning infrastructure that supports patient engagement. Discussions about an incentive program for patients — providing technology in exchange for participation — have also taken place.

The health care field is changing. Like any other large change, there are factions of patients, physicians and even entire organizations that are resisting.

Despite the lengthy and tortuous journey that it’s been so far, it’s important to keep the end goal in mind. Patient engagement will ultimately play a role in the evolution of the field, which will result in higher quality care at a much lower price. Although it’s hard to find patient incentives at this point in the process, hopefully the ultimate savings and improvements will allow patients to see the forest for the trees.

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