Tag Archives: health apps

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?

Will Information Technology Squeeze Physicians Out Of Their Central Role In Health Care?

Not by a long shot if patients have anything to say about it.

Turns out that while most of us (90%) would like be able to make a doctor’s appointment and check lab results online….85% of us also still want the option of be able to talk to our physician face-to-face.  These are the finding from a recent 2012 study conducted by Accenture.

These finding will no doubt come as a surprise to many of those high tech newcomers to health care looking to make physician and trips to the doctor’s office a thing of the past with some new “killer health app.” You wouldn’t believe how little many of these software and app developers know about how health care works.  Then again, if you have looked at some of the EMRs, PHRs, and patient portals solutions being hyped out there maybe you could believe it.

What is significant about the finding cited above is that patients at least get it.  They understand the value of a having a relationship with a knowledgeable physician or similar health care provider.  In spite of, and for some, because of the plethora of health information outlets on the web people want to know that they always have access to your family doc when the chips are down.

What newbie software engineers and  smart phone app developers fail to understand is that health care is fundamentally about social interactions…not technical data transactions like depositing a check or making an airline reservation.

Here’s what I mean…based upon some 20+ years working in health care:

  • From the get go…going back to Hippocrates…health and health care delivery has been about the relationships between people starting with the  physician-patient.relationship.
  • The most important diagnostic tool a physician has at their disposal is not a smart phone…but their ability to talk with and observe  patients verbal and non-verbal behavior.
  •  “Talk” is not only how physicians diagnose problems and recommend the appropriate treatments…talk is also how patients are able to engage in the health care.  Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of talk (and touch) during the medical exam is the therapeutic benefits patients derive from being able to express heart-felt fears and concerns to someone who hopefully cares.

The unfulfilled promises of so much of health information technology today (like Electronic Medical Records, Personal Health Records, and Patient Portals), with some notable exceptions like Kaiser, Group Health and the VA, can be traced directly back to developers not understanding that their job is to enable physician-patient relationships not get in their way or try and replace them.

Check out this related post – Patient Engagement Is A Physician-Patient Communication Challenge…Not A Health Information Technology Challenge

I don’t consider myself a Luddite when it comes to health information technology…nor would I put most physicians in this category.  The health industry is going through massive change, and unfortunately in such time, there is also a lot of false starts and waste that comes from ill conceived HIT solutions.  I suspect that tech vendors that take the time to learn the business that is health care, and commit themselves to improving the physician-patient relationship…will do just fine.

 The Take Away…

The physician-patient relationship remains paramount for us patients.  Yes there are problems…yes physicians and patient need to learn to do a better job communicating with one another.  But when everything is said and done…when the chips are down…we don’t want to be forced to diagnose and treat ourselves.  We want to be able to see and talk with our doctor when we want.  And honoring the patient’s perspective after all is what patient-centered care is all about right?

And oh by the way…we still want the convenience of being able to go online to schedule an appointment and check out lab tests.

That’s my opinion…what’s yours?

Sources:

Squeezing out the doctor -The role of physicians at the center of health care is under pressure.  The Economist. June 2012.

Could mobile apps replace doctors?  KevinMD.com