Tag Archives: HIMSS

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.