Tag Archives: EMR

Engage Your Patients And Members Where They Are…Not Where You Wish They Were

Not long ago, Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based health care-system Dignity Health announced the Dignity Health and Box Patient Education App Challenge. In the course of the announcement, Dean is quoted as saying:

“We recognize the immense potential that (health information) technology has to enhance our patients’ care and overall experience.”

Dean’s use of the term “immense potential” with respect to patient-facing technologies like health apps and patient portals got me thinking. Immense potential compared to what? [pullquote]Dean’s use of the term “immense potential” got me thinking. Immense potential compared to what?[/pullquote]

With all the hype in the health press about the patient engagement potential of patient-facing health information technologies, one could be forgiven for thinking that HIT is the best if not only path to patient engagement. But in fact there is another way. Another more immediate, less costly and proven way. And its potential to engage patients, enhance care and improve patient experiences dwarfs the “immense potential” of patient-facing HIT by comparison.

PC Communications vs HIT
Rediscovering the Power of Physician-Patient Exam Room Conversations

Here’s what I mean. The average office-based physician engages in some 4,224 face-to-face visit-related conversations with patients each year. Depending upon their communication skills, each of these conversations represents an opportunity for physicians to engage patients, enhance care and improve patient experiences.

In the case of Dignity Health’s 11,000 physicians, assuming they see an average of 20 patients/day/physician, this comes out to:
220,000 patient visit per day , 880,000 patient visits per week 45.7 million patient visits per year

Now factor in the 3-4 complaints each patient brings to the visit along with a myriad of beliefs, fears and expectations for service (tests, referrals, new medications, and so on). I hope you are starting to realize that each patient visit is pregnant with opportunities for clinicians – your clinicians – to engage, empower and excite patients…. sometimes by doing nothing more than listening to what the patient wants to say. Remember these are real opportunities that exist in the here and now…not some promise or dream of possibilities to come.
3-4 Complaints + 2-3 Requests + 4-5 Expectations = Lots Of Opportunities To Engage Patients

At this point you might be thinking that your physicians are already leveraging these exam room opportunities to build your organization’s brand, to refer patients to your specialists and ancillary services, and to direct patients to health information on your their/your patient portal. You would probably be wrong. Not because of the limited time available during the office visit…but rather because many physicians have never been trained or provided with the communications tools needed to recognize or facilitate these kinds of opportunities. But that is the topic for a separate post.
The Patient-Facing HIT Opportunity

Now consider the opportunities in Lloyd Dean’s brave new world…a vision shared by HIT professionals health developers, vendors and their respective professional organizations.

Staying with the Dignity Health example, let’s assume that each of Dignity Health’s 11,000 doctors have patient panels of 2,300 adults and that 10% of these people use their respective patient portals or smart health apps 5 times per year (a generous assumption). This comes out to approximately 12.6 million opportunities for Dignity to engage, empower and excite patients/consumers per year.

It’s doubtful that the opportunities for meaningful engagement afforded by a patient portal or health app compare qualitatively to the opportunities possible with a face-to-face physician visit. Being able to check one’s lab tests, schedule an appointment, or refill a prescription while convenient are do not afford the same therapeutic benefits of a listening ear or the touch of a clinician’s hand.
The Take Away

The real “immense opportunity” for engaging patients, enhancing patient care and improving patient experiences lies behind the closed exam room doors of physicians. That is the most frequent point of contact health care consumers have with the health care system. It is also where truly meaningful patient engagement and memorable patient experience take place.

Engaging patients, enhancing care and improving patient experiences is not an either or choice between more health IT or better physician-patient communications. Providers will need both in the long run. HIT will enable clinicians with good patient communication skills to touch more patients and get more done. Physicians in turn will recommend that patients go to their patient portals and smart apps for health information.

Imagine the ROI that organizations like Dignity Health’s could realize from their investments in patient portals and health apps if all 45.7 million annual patient visits were given a tailored information therapy prescription directing them to one or the other or both.

Now that is what I call IMMENSE POTENTIAL!

That’s what I think….what’s your opinion?

Helping physicians, hospitals and health plans do a better job of engaging patients, enhancing patient care and improving patient experiences in the exam room is the goal of the Adopt One! Challenge. The Challenge is a great way for physicians to get a comprehensive baseline assessment of their patient communication skills, find out how their communication skills compare to best practices, and get access to online skills development tools.

Be sure to sign up for the Adopt One! Challenge Newsletter for more information. Health plans and hospitals are invited to sponsor the Adopt One! Challenge for physicians in their provider network, including PCMHs and ACOs.

Do You Really Believe That 41% Of People Would Switch Physicians To Gain Online Access To Their EMR?

I love survey data as much as the next person. But some of the survey data finding its way into the health care press these days is pure baloney…which is good if you like baloney.

Such was the case with the finding from an Accenture study which was making the rounds of the Health Information Technology (HIT) Journals, HIT Blogs and Twitter feeds during National Health IT Week. You will no doubt recall the headlines which proclaimed that “41% of U.S. consumers would be willing to switch physicians to gain online access to their own EMRs.”

Upon first glance, the question of “would you be willing to switch physicians” to accomplish a social good (access to your electronic medical records) seems reasonable enough. It’s one of those questions that most of us would be inclined to agree with. It’s kind of like asking people if they would be willing to pay lower taxes or pay less to fill up your car’s gas tank. Of course we will say yes.

In the Accenture study literally everyone did! Remember 36% of respondents said they already had full access to their EMR (whatever full access means), 27% said they had limited EMR access and 37% said they did not yet have any EMR access. So if 41% said they would switch physicians to get EMR access we are left to conclude that all 100% of those without EMR access would switch…plus 4% of those who already had EMR access would also switch doctors presumably because they wanted more EMR access.

At face value, this Accenture data does not hold water…and here are a couple of reasons why.

  • 79% of people (patients) are already very satisfied with their personal physician (patients who rated their physician 9-10 on the 10 point 2012 CHAPS survey released recently by AHRQ. Very satisfied patients are not likely to switch physicians unless they have a darn good reason and access to Health IT is not a good enough reason for most people.
  • People’s criteria for selecting a new physician focus on human interaction skills and clinical competencies – not the physician’s Reasons For Changing Doctorsuse of EMRs and other Health IT (i.e., PHRs, web portals, etc.).
  • Similarly, people’s reasons for switching physicians have to do with changes in insurance, relocation, and the physician’s human interaction skills…not the lack of an EMR, PHR or patient portal.
  • 100% of people can’t agree on anything including EMRs – intuitively we know that seniors (who have the highest health care need/use) have a higher trust in their physicians and are less inclined to care one way or another about Health IT, other people worry about personal data security and so on.
  • A 2012 survey by the Markle Foundation found that “79 percent or more of the public believe using an online PHR would provide major benefits to individuals in managing their health and health care services.” Yet actual consumer adoption of online PHRs has been less than 10% for the last several years (with some notable exceptions like Kaiser, Group Health and the VA). There’s a big difference between what people believe or say they are willing to do…and what they actually do.

The Take Away

What people actually do or intend to do (behavioral intentions) are much stronger and reliable predictors of behavior (switching physicians for example) than attitudinal questions about their beliefs or potential willingness to do something in the future in relation to other behaviors they could engage in. The Accenture study would have been more instructive had it asked respondents to rate the importance of Health IT (EMR) in relation to other physician selection factors like the physician interpersonal skills, their knowledge and experience, etc. It would also be helpful for Accenture to inquire as to the respondent’s knowledge of EMRs and what constituted full versus limited access…and which is addresses the consumer’s level of interest and need.

Thoughts On Patient Engagement, Patient-Centeredness and Communication-Centered Medical Records

Sometimes I come across a post that I absolutely must share… such is the case with this re-print of a post by Rob Lamberts, MD, a primary care physician practicing “somewhere in the southeastern United States.” He blogs regularly at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind), where this post first appeared.

“Patient engagement.”

What is “Patient Engagement?”  It sounds like a season of “The Bachelor” where a doctor dates hot patients.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it was. After all, patient engagement is hot; it’s the new buzz phrase for health wonks.  There was even an entire day at the recent HIMSS conference dedicated to “Patient engagement.”  I think the next season of “The Bachelor” should feature a wonk at HIMSS looking for a wonkettes to love.

Here’s how the Internets define “Patient engagement”:

  • The Get Well Network (with a smiley face) calls it: “A national health priority and a core strategy for performance improvement.”
  • Leonard Kish refers to it as “The Blockbuster Drug of the Century” (it narrowly beat out Viagra) – HT to Dave Chase.
  • Steve Wilkins refers to it as “The Holy Grail of Health Care” (it also narrowly beat out Viagra) – HT to Kevin MD.
  • On the HIMSS Patient Engagement Day, the following topics were discussed:
    • How to make Patients Your Partners in Satisfying Meaningful Use Stage 2 Objectives; Case Studies in Patient Engagement, session #64;
    • Review Business Cases for Implementing a Patient-Centered Communication Strategy and Building Patient 2.0, session #84;: and
    • Engaging People in Health Through Consumer-Facing Devices and Tools, session #102.

So then, “patient engagement” is:

  • a strategy
  • a drug
  • a grail (although I already have a grail)
  • a “meaningful use” objective
  • something that requires a business case
  • something that requires “consumer-facing devices and tools” (I already have one of those too).

I hope that clears things up.

So why am I being so snarky about this?  Why make fun of a term used by many people I trust and respect?  I was recently discussing my ideas on a communication-centered medical record with a colleague.  At the end of my pontification, my friend agreed, saying: “you are right; communication is an important part of health care.”  I surprised him by disagreeing.  Communication isn’t important to health care, communication is health care. Care is not a static thing, it is the transaction of ideas. The patient tells me what is going on, I listen, I share my thoughts with the patient (and other providers), and the patient uses the result of this transaction for their own benefit.

But our fine system doesn’t embrace this definition.  We indict ourselves when we talk about “patient engagement” as if it’s a goal, as it reveals the current state of disengagement .  Patients are not the center of care.  Patients are a source of data so doctors can get “meaningful use” checks.  Patients are the proof that our organizations are accountable.  Patients live in our “patient-centered” medical homes.

Replacing patients as the object of our attention (and affection) is our dear friend, the medical record.  We faun over medical records.  Companies earn epic profits from medical records.  We hold huge conferences to celebrate medical records.  We charge patients money to get to see their own medical records.  We even build special booths (portals) where patients are allowed to peer in through a peep hole and see parts of their medical records.

This is why I’ve had such a hard time finding a record system for my new practice.  I want my IT to center on patients, but medical record systems are self-absorbed.  They are an end in themselves.  They are all about making records, not engaging patients.  They are for the storage of ideas, not the transfer of them.  Asking medical records to engage patients is like asking a dictionary to tell a story.

The problem is, documentation has taken over health care.  Just as the practice of a religion can overshadow its purpose: the search for God, documentation chokes out the heart of health care: the communication of ideas .  It did this because we are paid to document, not communicate.  Communication takes time and it is not reimbursed.  Communication prevents unnecessary care, which is a revenue stream.  Communication eliminates waste, and waste is food that feeds the system, the bricks that build the wings to hospitals, the revenue source that pads IT budgets.

So what’s a doctor to do?  I’m not sure.  I am still looking for a solution that will meet the central goals of my practice:

  • Communication – health care is a hassle,  with communication relegated to the exam room.  I want care to be easily accessible for my patients,using IT in one of its strongest areas: tools for easy communication.
  • Collaboration – the patient should be engaged, but in a two-way relationship.  This means they not only should have access to their records, they should contribute to those records.
  • Organization – I want a calendar documenting visits, symptoms, problems, medications, past and future events in each patient’s record.  I also want a task-management system I share with patients to make sure care gets done.
  • Education – I want to practice high-quality medicine, care that is informed by good information and the best evidence.  Why not do a yearly stress test?  There’s evidence for that.  Why not use antibiotics for sinus infections?  There’s evidence there.  Why use an ACE inhibitor to control the blood pressure?  I need to be able to support my recommendations with data, not just “because the doctor said so.”

The point of all of this is the moving of medicine from an industry where money is milked from disease to a communications network where diseases are prevented.  ”Patient engagement” that is done to the patient for the sake of the doctor or hospital is a sham.  Engagement is about interaction, listening, and learning in relationship to another person.  Engagement is not a strategy, it is care.

If only I could find the tools to make this happen.

HIT-Driven Patient Engagement Is A Bust – Effective Patient Engagement Begins With The Doctor-Patient Relationship

I hate saying I told you so.  But to quote myself…”patient engagement is a physician-patient communications challenge and not an HIT (Health Information Technology) challenge.”

Just take a look at the Mayo Clinic’s patient portal experience which was discussed at a HIMMS 2013 and reported on in HIT industry press.

The Headline

Mayo Clinic Struggles To Meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use Thresholds For Engaging Patients.

Always innovating, the Mayo Clinic some three years ago introduced a web-based portal to share information with their patients.  During that time some 240,000 patients have signed up for online accounts.  That’s pretty impressive.  But there’s a problem.  A BIG PROBLEM.

Build ItAccording to Eric Manley, product manager of global solutions at the Mayo Clinic, they are having a hard time “getting more than 5% “of all the patients who registered with the patient portal to actually use it.   You see in order to meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements, and enjoy the benefits that come with meeting this criteria, people actually have to use the portal to access their own health information.  You just can’t build a portal and in Mayo’s case have fewer than 12,000 unique patients actually use it.    Actually you can…hospitals and physicians do it all the time…they just can’t get incentive payments for their efforts.

 So What Went Wrong?

It’s not like the folks at Mayo haven’t tried.  Mayo’s patient portal offer all the requisite techie gizmos – giving patients access to their medical record, lab results, appointment schedule, and lots of health information.  They also recently introduced their first patient-directed mobile health app call “Patient” which makes it easy for people to access their health information online.   Mayo even has a Center for Innovation to figure this kind of stuff out.

Upon reflection Manley admits that “simply making services available doesn’t cut it,” he said. “Unless you are engaging patients, you won’t meet meaningful use requirements. [Messaging and other mechanisms] need to be a part of your practice.”

But Wait – I Thought Patient Portals, EMRS and Health Apps Were Patient Engagement Strategies?? You Mean We Need To Do More?

Manley is quoted as saying that “patient engagement has been a part of what Mayo has done for a long time, meaningful use, especially Stage 2, is a catalyst to kick it up a notch.”

Let’s face it.  Meaningful Use maybe a good way to get providers to adopt badly needed HIT improvements – but it not a great way to force patients to “engage” with you.   Here’s why.

1)    Forcing patients to do anything is wrong and antithetical to the whole idea of patient-centeredness…even if you think it is in the patient’s best interest. Meeting Meaningful Use seems to take precedence over what the patient wants.  Manley is quoted as saying “just having it [information and portals] out there isn’t enough”…”It’s making the patient use them.”

2)    Patients want to engage with other people regarding their health, particularly their physicians. Health after all is an intensely personal and social affair.  Mobile health apps and email just can’t give patients want they want – to be listened to and understood.  Plus 85% of people want face-to-face access to their physician when they want it.  Patients know that HIT threatens to get in between them and their doctors.

3)    The content on most patient portals is not particularly relevant or engaging after the first 10 seconds….at least from the patient’s perspective.   After all, cognitive involvement is a prerequisite of meaningful engagement and it tough to be interested and spend time thinking about information that is not in context (of a medical encounter), you don’t understand, find boring, completely inaccurate or irrelevant.

So What Is The Solution?

There’s no question that if done right patient portals can and do work.  One need look no further than Kaiser Permanente, Group Health and the VA for great examples.  The key to their success…and hopefully every provider’s success…is integration.

Health care for us patients occurs within the context of social relations with our physicians.  To be engaging…the information you want to share with us needs to be relevant to us from our perspective, come from our physician and be integrated into our overall care plan.    Only then will we have the trust and confidence that the information is ours…and is something we need to pay attention to.  We focus on our health while we are in the doctor’s office…if you really want to engage us…do it there.

That’s my opinion…what’s yours?

3 First Principles For Evaluating Patient-Facing HIT Solutions

With the HIMSS13 Conference next week we can expect to hear a lot about how health information technology (HIT) and e-Health is expected to challenge and change the way health care now and in years to come.  To be sure great strides have been made in the adoption of electronic medical records, decision support, and patient web portals… with the promise of more to come.  Health Apps, in spite of their painfully slow uptake by many consumers, press forward with innovative new toimagesols.

Yet in order to realize the full promise of patient-facing like EMRs, PHRs, patient portals and the like, we need to be more mindful of the following “first principles.”

First Principles #1 – Health care delivery and healing occurs in the context of interpersonal relationships.

Today, as in the past, health care is delivered within the context of interpersonal relationships, e.g., the physician-patient relationship.  Sir William Osler, the father of modern medicine, recognized this along with the importance of a clinician’s communication skills when he said “listen to the patient and they will tell you what is wrong.”   Today, as in Osler’s time, encouraging patients to “tell their story” is the hallmark of good communication skills.  Eliciting the patient’s story is also a hallmark of strong healing relationships…since the simple act of “talking” and “feeling heard” have been shown to have clear therapeutic benefits.

The same is true with the intensely interpersonal act of “laying on of hands.”  “Touch” as a method of healing dates back to biblical times and beyond.   Today, physicians like Abraham Verghese, MD continue to speak to about therapeutic value of touch as practiced during patient exams in both the hospital and ambulatory settings.  These same physicians caution us against losing sight of the central role and value of the physician-patient relationship in the false belief that technology will one day be capable of replacing the personal physician.

First Principles #2 – HIT cannot compensate for weak physician-patient relationships or poor physician-patient communication skills.   

We hear today about how primary care physicians are very busy…and getting even busier.  EMR systems, e-visits, decision support tools, patient portals and the like are touted as solutions for saving time, increasing quality, etc.  While all this may be true, a great EMR system or secure e-mail visits cannot turn a physician with sub-optimal patient communication skills into a patient-centered Marcus Welby, MD.  It will probably make things worse.

Absent strong, physician-patient relationships and equally strong patient-centered communication skills, such HIT investments are like building castles upon sand.

Another hallmark of patient-centered communication is a “meeting of the minds” between patients and their physicians regarding issues like the visit agenda, the accuracy and severity of the diagnosis and which treatment options will work best.  Unfortunately since many physicians today continue to employ a physician-directed style of communicating with patients…the patient’s perspective is seldom sought…and a meeting of the minds never has a chance to occur.   Even if EMRs accommodated the patient’s perspective, the clinician first has to ask the patient…and that just isn’t happening.

 First Principles #3 – Beware of unintended consequences

Many HIT professionals will quickly dismiss the above first principles cited above in the name of improving physician productivity.  After all, given today’s shortage of primary care physicians we have no choice but to layer on more HIT like EMRS and self-help patient portals.  But as with anything, one needs to be prepared for the consequences.  And there are always consequences.

In addition to improving productivity, health care professionals cite patient engagement as yet another reason to invest in HIT.  But is that really the case?

We have all seen the research citing how patients would “like” secure e-mail with their doctor, online appointment scheduling, access to their doctor’s notes, etc.   Who in their right mind would not like this?  But liking is not the same as using.  Of perhaps more importance is the finding that the vast majority of patients (85%) want to know that they will still have the ability to see their doctor face-to-face when needed after they have access to the above conveniences .   People aren’t dumb.  We/they know that technology is increasingly getting in between us/them and our/their physician.  Provider organizations that try and channel patients into substituting web portals and PHRs for physician office visits run the risk of pushing patients/members into the waiting arms of their competitors.

A recent study of decision support tools underscores yet another unintended consequence – loss of trust in their physician.  Interestingly, certain patients saw the use of computer decision support tools as a reflection of their physician’s clinical knowledge.   That is, physicians that used decision support tools were perceived as being less knowledgeable than physicians that didn’t employ them.  Since clinical skills are a driver of patient trust, the risk of encouraging physicians to “engage” patients by using decision support tools is that you may well be disengaging them by increasing their distrust.

So What’s The Take Away?

We need to recognize that there are fundamental first principles concerning the delivery of healing and health care.  To that extent that HIT professionals and those that write the checks for HIT understand these principles one has a better chance of meeting their expectations.

Here are three questions that need to be considered when evaluating any patient-facing HIT solution:

  1. Does technology support or detract from the physician-patient relationship in a meaningful way?
  2. Does the technology presuppose the presence of strong physician-patient relations and physician-patient communication skills?
    Do you even know what kind of patient communication skills your physicians have?
  3. What are the potential unintended consequences of adopting the proposed technology?

That’s what I think…what’s your opinion?

Sources

Agarwa, R. et al.   If We Offer it, Will They Accept? Factors Affecting Patient Use Intentions of Personal Health Records and Secure Messaging.    Journal of Medical Internet Research 2013;15(2):e43.