The State of Patient Engagement

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The art and science of the care process

Patient engagement is no longer an amenity. Over the last five years or so, it’s become a core strategy for transforming healthcare, improving the patient experience and increasing operational efficiencies.

For too long, however, patient engagement has been more art than science. Before reimbursement reform enacted under the Affordable Care Act, the way many organizations thought about enhancing the patient experience was by putting a grand piano or a coffee bar in the lobby of their hospital, making patients feel like they were checking into a hotel. While those things are nice in a care environment, they don’t drive outcomes.

Today, healthcare providers are looking for ways to increase HCAHPS scores, patient satisfaction and interaction with their patient portals-all stated and laudable goals of health reform. Still, when it comes to implementing a patient engagement strategy, they face potential obstacles, including health IT systems integration, a lack of support by executive and/or clinical leadership, and how to measure the value of their investment.

Personalized Patient Care

Educating and engaging patients and their families in the care process can demonstrate a positive impact on health outcomes, such as reduced falls and infections, and increased compliance. The benefits to providers are just as significant. Streamlined clinical workflows help nurses save time on their rounds. Integrated medication teaching and pharmacy ordering can enhance revenue. And decreased 30-day readmissions are good for patients as well as the hospital’s bottom line.

How does all of this work together?

Certainly, new investments in technology, change management and people are required to get patient engagement right. Healthcare is, by nature, a people business. More specifically, healthcare is local-we all need care in the communities where we live. Therefore, care needs to be targeted and customized to the needs of each patient, as well as the family members who may care for him or her.

To connect patients, families and those who provide care, health IT systems must also be connected. At GetWellNetwork we have developed an open, patient-centered interactive patient care (IPC) platform that integrates with electronic health records (EHRs), food service solutions, RTLS and communication systems, patient portals and more. These diverse technologies can come together to enables a higher quality of care and more productive workflows for clinicians. Interoperability also means a better experience for patients and families.

For example, through the exchange of data with an EHR, we know which patient is in which bed or clinic at what time. We know what language they speak, what medications have been prescribed to them, and what procedures they’re having. This data also allows us to dynamically personalize educational content in the form of visual instructions and reminders to address and fortify that patient’s plan of care.

With IPC, educational content can be delivered to a bedside TV, an iPad in an ambulatory surgery center or a smartphone anywhere to prompt patients to learn about their newly diagnosed heart failure condition or an orthopedic procedure or how to manage their new medications. Instead of a stack of photocopied paper instructions, patients can refer to a customized library of digital content to help increase comprehension, compliance and satisfaction. And patient progress-interventions completed or educational videos watched-can be documented back into the EHR, allowing clinicians to track patient status and adapt the plan of care accordingly.

A Defining Moment in Healthcare

Recently, my colleague Dr. Karen Drenkard, chief clinical and nursing officer for GetWellNetwork, wrote, “Traditional health care delivery methods are based on clinicians providing care to patients rather than partnering with them in their care. More emphasis needs to be placed on assessing a person’s capacity to be engaged in his or her care, exchanging information and jointly determining care goals. If we are to deliver care that truly encourages people to be the manager of their care journey, providers need to focus on these parts of the process more fully.”

This approach to healthcare makes sense not only from a clinical perspective but from a financial and operational perspective as well. In order to generate improvements in the cost, quality and safety of care, control must shift from provider to patient. We have to move from episodic care toward preventive care and population health management.

Driving this shift is a growing emphasis on value-based, rather than volume-based, care. Patients should be able to take their care plans with them wherever they go to remain active and engaged in their health. And wherever appropriate, providers can help keep people out of hospitals and provide more personalized, convenient and scaled-cost care in outpatient or urgent care settings.

That’s true patient engagement: interacting with people at any point along the continuum of care to help them have more meaningful conversations with their providers and achieve their life goals. And with a better understanding of what’s most important to their patients, physicians and nurses can begin to formulate and support more effective, sustainable treatment plans.

Finally, like any capital expense, an organization’s investment in patient engagement needs to measure value as well as return. An effective strategy can yield significant results in organizational performance, much of which can be measured based on financial impact. But patient engagement also offers meaningful non-financial benefits, including improved patient satisfaction, standardization of clinical processes, increased workflow efficiency and reinforced brand loyalty based on the patient experience.

The truth is that successful patient engagement requires both art and science. As a people business, it should first and foremost be viewed from the patient’s perspective: as a way to help them learn about their condition, participate in their care and live their best, fullest life. And increased interoperability between health IT systems can help providers maximize their overall investment, streamline clinical and operational workflows, and ensure healthier care settings and communities.

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About Author

Michael O’Neil
Michael O’Neil

Michael O’Neil was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 28. After four cycles of chemotherapy, he started GetWellNetwork® to help hospitals improve performance and outcomes through patient engagement. Michael was named EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® for 2016 in the health category for the Mid-Atlantic region.

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