Digital Health and Patient Engagement

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When healthcare professionals are receiving actionable data and providing feedback and treatment recommendations, the connected patient is empowered

With the array of challenges facing healthcare, solutions to improve patient engagement are increasingly important for all stakeholders involved. Advances in technology are central to enabling such solutions-and many providers agree. In fact, 65% of healthcare professionals believe that health apps will help patients take more responsibility for their own health.1

Current Drivers of Patient Engagement

Patient engagement has always been important, but today’s complex healthcare landscape makes it even more so-and healthcare’s Triple Aim is perhaps the most significant reason. Introduced by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in 2008, this initiative is designed to reinvent healthcare by:

  • Improving the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction)
  • Improving the health of populations
  • Reducing the per capita cost of healthcare2

In addition, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the move toward value-based payment models has meant that healthcare providers are increasingly required to deliver better outcomes at reduced costs. As a result, healthcare organizations across the country are urgently seeking the best options to achieve the Triple Aim in order to align with such models. Industry leaders and influencers agree that a key factor in achieving these goals relates to keeping patients out of the hospital and away from the doctor’s office. To do this, they are focusing on remote touch points and monitoring-as well as continuous patient engagement to foster improved population health.

Challenges for Providers

Unfortunately, although providers encourage preventative health measures with their patients, many wait for a health crisis to occur before they’re willing to engage and take action. This lack of patient engagement is a challenge that makes it difficult to reach desired outcomes-especially when providers are forced to rely on self-reported data and patients are trying to manage their health and care on their own.

In addition, the ability to access actionable patient-generated data in an effective manner is also a significant challenge. In a recent global survey of 450 healthcare organizations, nearly 60% of respondents said they were behind on their strategy for pursuing digital health-and data access challenges are likely a significant part of this lag.3 Providers need to have a device- or platform-agnostic strategy to truly engage with their full populations.

Health Apps in the Healthcare Setting

Technology has become a great answer to meeting all of these challenges. Patients now have tools readily available in their homes and on their smartphones-like health apps-to improve self-management. This ability to self-manage one’s health is empowering patients to choose how, when and with whom they receive care. Such tools also help providers to better track, educate, intervene and communicate with patients-and research indicates that patients are willing to use them.

A recent study by Research Now highlighted that providers support using health apps in their practice, and according to a Deloitte survey, 90% of physicians were interested in incorporating digital health technology, believing that it has clinical value and impact. 4,5 In addition, another survey, released by iTriage, revealed that more than 76% of respondents would be interested in sharing their tracked data with their healthcare providers.5

These positive trends reflect the fact that, when healthcare professionals are receiving actionable data and providing feedback and treatment recommendations, the connected patient is empowered with continuous health insights and guidance that they can act upon.

The Role of Digital Health

Digital health plays a key role in patient engagement in a variety of ways-particularly in terms of wearables and other connected devices. As awareness grows regarding the efficacy of such tools, this sector increasingly captures the attention of consumers, providers and payers as a way to improve health, enhance outcomes and reduce costs.

There are many examples of how providers and provider-focused technology companies are using digital health platforms to improve patient engagement. Electronic health records (EHR) vendors are key to supporting such efforts, and two examples are Cerner and MEDITECH-both of which are incorporating patients’ digital health data into their health portals, wellness programs and electronic health records. With this integration to digital health, providers who use these EHRs can easily access actionable patient-generated data from the wide variety of devices, such as a connected blood glucose meter, activity tracker, nutrition application and more. This helps them to meet their strategic goal of helping providers better manage populations and drive lower healthcare costs.

Another example can be found at Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente. To enhance progress toward achieving the Triple Aim, Kaiser implemented a remote patient monitoring program to increase the number of patients seen remotely and decrease the number of costly non-emergency visits in the emergency room. Kaiser recognized the need for a reliable method to connect clinicians with the patient data they needed to optimize health outcomes and results.

A third example is Palo Alto Medical Foundation at Sutter Health, which provided a different type of incentive in a pilot with patients suffering from hypertension and heart disease.6 The patients received blood pressure monitors, fitness trackers and weight scales that were all connected in order to share their data with their physicians. Participants benefited because they were no longer required to make a trip to the hospital or doctor’s office to determine status, instead they could be monitored remotely. If the patient stopped tracking their vitals or a key parameter started to fluctuate, someone from the hospital would reach out to see if further intervention was required.

Expected results

By using digital health platforms, there are a number of positive results that physicians can expect in terms of improved patient engagement. Digital health and consumer interest in fitness and overall well-being are generating a seismic shift in patient-provider relationships. Historically, healthcare has been performed on patients rather than being something patients owned.  However, patients are increasingly having the opportunity to incorporate a BYOD (bring your own device) approach into their care treatment plans. The instant availability of data and interpretive feedback provides ongoing support to a patient and can extend a provider’s availability and insights beyond the occasional office visit.

What the future holds

According to recent predictions from Gartner Research, global wearable device sales are forecast to grow from 232 million units sold in 2015 to more than 322 million in 2017.7 On the patient side, these new devices will have more capabilities than ever as technology continues to advance. Similarly, patients are going to continue to increasingly self-track, self-diagnose and self-treat based on the information presented to them by wearables, in-home medical devices and smartphone applications.

On the provider side, increased interfacing with device-agnostic digital health platforms will continue to improve access to real-time and actionable data. This information will continue to enable providers the opportunity to lead the way in using this patient generated data to improve patient outcomes, deepen patient engagement and achieve the Triple Aim as a result.

Chris Edwards is chief marketing officer of healthcare & wellness technology at Validic, the largest digital health platform connecting healthcare organizations to data generated by consumer and clinical health technologies. 

References:

  1. “Are Mobile Medical Apps Good for Our Health? A New Study by Research Now Reveals That Doctors and Patients Say ‘yes’.” April 20, 2015. Research Now. Accessed March 4, 2016. http://www.researchnow.com/en-gb/PressAndEvents/News/
    2015/april/are-mobile-medical-apps-good-for-our-health-i
    nfographic.aspx?cookies=disabled.
  2. “Institute for Healthcare Improvement: The IHI Triple Aim.” Accessed March 4, 2016.
    http://www.ihi.org/engage/initiatives
    /tripleaim/Pages/default.aspx.
  3. “Is Your Digital Health Strategy Thriving, Surviving or Non-Existent?” Validic. 2016. Accessed March 4, 2016.
    https://validic.com/blog/is-your-digital-health-
    strategy-thriving-surviving-or-non-existent.
  4. “Are Mobile Medical Apps Good for Our Health? A New Study by Research Now Reveals That Doctors and Patients Say ‘yes’.” April 20, 2015. Research Now. Accessed March 4, 2016.
    http://www.researchnow.com/en-gb/PressAndEvents/
    News/2015/april/are-mobile-medical-apps-good-for-our-
    health-infographic.aspx?cookies=disabled.
  5. “Validic Unveils VitalSnap, New Mobile Technology to Enable Real-Time Health Data Transfer. Jan. 7, 2016. PRNewswire. Accessed March 4, 2016.
    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/validic-unveils-
    vitalsnap-new-mobile-technology-to-enable-real-time-health-
    data-transfer-from-non-connected-devices-300200930.html.
  6. Sullivan, Mark. “How Sutter Health Gets Your Steps, Heartbeat, and Sleep Patterns into Your Health Records.” VentureBeat. October 27, 2014. Accessed March 4, 2016. http://venturebeat.com/2014/10/27/how-sutter-health-
    gets-your-steps-heartbeat-and-sleep-patterns-into-your-
    health-records-its-surprisingly-difficult/.
  7. “Gartner Says Worldwide Wearable Devices Sales to Grow 18.4 Percent in 2016.” February 2, 2016. Accessed March 4, 2016. http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3198018.
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About Author

Chris Edwards

Chief marketing officer of healthcare & wellness technology at Validic, the largest digital health platform connecting healthcare organizations to data generated by consumer and clinical health technologies.

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