Healthcare is undergoing radical transformation worldwide. A dramatic overhaul of regulations, combined with the onset of disruptive digital technologies, has triggered significant changes in providers’ business models. For instance, the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the U.S. has heralded a shift from traditional, fee-for-service provider compensation to outcome-based reimbursement, linked to patient satisfaction scores and readmission rates.
The consumerization of the industry is also being fueled by increased burden sharing on the part of patients with regard to care costs, as reflected in high-deductible health plans and co-payment structures. Case for patient engagement As the incentives for providers to reduce costs, and improve the speed, quality, accountability and safety of care keep growing, they are shifting focus from episodic care to preventive care and population health management.
Simultaneously, hospitals, clinics, physicians, nurses and pharmacies have stepped up efforts to ensure smooth post-discharge recovery, and promote wellness management. Against this backdrop, the concept of patient engagement has begun gaining traction, with providers weighing adoption of various consumer-facing digital technologies that drive improved patient communication, education, and self-care.
An annual poll of leading healthcare executives published in December 2015 by the Advisory Board Company ranked patient engagement fourth in the list of 25 key focus areas. 1 Nine out of 20 respondents said they were very keen on identifying patient engagement strategies, as compared to 41% a year ago, the survey showed. 2 After all, the potential business benefits for providers in enhancing patient engagement are pretty substantial.
According to a survey of C-suite executives across 10 verticals, including healthcare, conducted by Oracle, respondents cited the scope for a 16% upside in revenues if they could personalize customer experience
Rising patient expectations
The emerging emphasis on patient engagement highlights patients’ rising expectations regarding personalized care, in terms of intuitive self-service through multiple devices and on-demand order fulfilment.
They also want easier access to their electronic health records (EHRs) in order to become more informed regarding their medical condition, save time, and better engage with providers. And, in return, many patients are willing to share personal care data with their doctors.
Barriers impeding effective engagement
While providers recognize the imperative to address patients’ growing demands for bespoke and high-quality care delivery, the limited interoperability across different health IT setups hinders realtime data integration across the ecosystem. The incompatibility between various technology systems deployed by providers–in relation to exchange of electronic medical records (EMRs)– renders the task of data management and analysis challenging. Stringent regulations such as the U.S.’ Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) have further compounded the problem of non-standardization with regard to data definitions and data governance. Tough norms concerning the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI), as well as standards for electronic data interchange (EDI), continue to stifle data integration initiatives.
Use IT to enhance engagement
To improve treatment outcomes over the long term, healthcare organizations (HCOs) must focus on three areas. First, they should help patients understand their condition. Second, providers need to facilitate high-quality interactions between patients and the clinical team. Finally, patients have to be empowered with tools that help them self-manage chronic conditions through treatment regimens.
This calls for an institutionalized online wellness infrastructure, spanning enterprise, mobile, web, and personal monitoring devices and applications. Based on our partnerships with leading providers, we, at HCL, see four tangible ways in which the former can reimagine engagement initiatives for superior patient satisfaction, and in turn, sustained business growth:
- Patient portals: Hospitals, clinics and other stakeholders in the care delivery network must revamp their patient portals to provision on-demand access to relevant personal information, including laboratory results, diagnosis and medications.
Such portals should also enable patients to request referrals and prescription refills, reschedule appointments, and self-monitor specific health parameters such as blood pressure and glucose readings. Providers can also deploy visual storytelling tools such as infographics and video to make it easier for patients to understand educational content related to a diagnosis and ongoing health tips.
- Wearables: Caregivers need to leverage wearable medical technologies that enable realtime, remote tracking of vital health statistics. As a case in point, they could undertake pilots to assess the viability of Bluetooth-equipped, sensor-based wearable devices that monitor blood glucose, blood pressure, etc.
- Mobile apps: For facilitating frictionless interaction between patients and doctors, nurses and other staff, providers can create dedicated mobile apps such as caregiver collaboration tools. Likely use cases for these tools could include immediate intervention in case of health issues, prescription fulfilment tracking, and medication compliance tracking.
- Interactive patient care (IPC) platform: To foster interoperability across their IT systems, providers can consider developing an interactive patient care (IPC) platform that would integrate EHRs, patient portals, communication systems including real-time location system (RTLS), and food service solutions.
Such a platform could pave the way for more productive workflows involving clinicians, resulting in a higher quality of care. For instance, caregivers, through EHR-based data exchange, can dynamically individualize informative content–in the form of visual reminders and instructions–to strengthen a patient's plan of care. And, educational videos watched, patient progress and interventions completed could be documented back into EHRs, helping clinicians monitor patient status and adapt the plan of care accordingly