As I continue to travel around the country and speak to healthcare practitioners, it's becoming clear that the realities of patient consumerist behavior coupled with engagement incentives are leading caregivers to more actively pursue innovative solutions and long-term strategies.
And one main point I continue to make is that it is increasingly important to understand that the empowered patient is a benefit to your practice and not a hindrance, especially when market forces are leading patients in that direction.
At a recent presentation before practice administrators, payers and health IT executives during a regional MGMA conference, I found a ready audience looking for best practices.
By now it is – or should be - largely understood that high-deductible health plans and alternative care sites such as retail clinics are leading patients to be more cost conscious than ever before. This has led to “doctor shopping” and the growth of websites rating the overall patient experience along with costs and the history of a practitioner’s procedural, certification and work history.
All of this is of course fueled by informational consumer technologies and mobile applications along with those empowering patients to self-measure, self-monitor and self-manage aspects of their healthcare.
It is estimated that globally some 500 million people are expected to access a mobile health application by 2016.
And even within the industry, new transparencies such as the CMS Physician Compare website, is adding to the consumerism of healthcare.
Embracing Transparency and Patient Collaboration
Adopting the mindset that an empowered patient is a loyal patient – and a more compliant patient – is a sound strategy backed by recent studies.
A pilot project by Geisinger Health System opening up medication records to patients for their review found that patients were eager to provide input toward reconciling and updating medication lists and offering changes that could be entered into EHRs.
A similar program by a consortium of health systems known as the Open Notes Project found that patients given access to provider notes were more compliant in their medication regimens.
Therefore transparency itself is a patient engagement strategy.
What to do with Patient-Generated Data
The next frontier for caregivers in any setting is how to absorb, share and in general prepare for the emergence of Patient-Generated Health Data.
The growth of mobile and consumer-directed monitors and devices is a big part of the healthcare applications marketplace.
And by now you should be aware that agencies such as ONC are calling for practitioners to be able to accept these types of data into the EHR, and that doing so is among the criteria proposals within Stage 3 of meaningful use.
If you are equipped with a patient portal and in addition the ability to integrate it with a personal health record (PHR) then you have reached some technological engagement foundations.
New technologies are making it so easy for the patient-consumer to create health data – via everything from a bathroom scale to wearables – that old-fashioned notions of patient compliance or regular checkups is being replaced by strategies to understand how to accept and coordinate this data into an alert-driven or actionable technology.
It is important to stay abreast of consumer-driven care coordination technologies emerging in the market. I came across a technology called OneCare, a data hub free to consumers that merges health data from the provider, PHR or other personal sources and collaborates with health plans to track health metrics matched to patient financial incentives.
There are even solutions such as Gozio Health’s smartphone wayfinding platform that uses sensor fusion technology to provide better “customer service” during a visit.
This isn’t high-tech benevolence – engaged visitors translate into fewer missed and late appointments, higher HCACHPS scores and more easily met MU-2 objectives.
To meet the demands of the new consumerist and patient-generated data horizons of quality-driven healthcare and payment models, adopt a collaborative and proactive approach to patient populations.
It’s important to survey this population to understand their expectations and their own levels of technological abilities and the importance they place upon it.
Turning this information into analytics and then a sound strategy – for both incentive program requirements and realistic patient engagement as well as empowerment programs – are keys to putting theory into practice.
What questions do you have?
As a healthcare executive and strategist, Justin Barnes is an industry and technology advisor who also serves as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center. In addition, Mr. Barnes is Chairman Emeritus of the HIMSS EHR Association as well as Co-Chairman of the Accountable Care Community of Practice.