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Improving patient engagement equal parts technology, empathy

Brian Eastwood | Oct. 16, 2013
Improving efficiency and cutting costs in healthcare means better collaborating with patients. Web portals and mobile applications can help, but only if they connect with the myriad systems that doctors actually use. Organizations can't forget that a little empathy goes a long way, too.

Better Patient Engagement Needs Board, Executive Buy-in
To get patient engagement right, healthcare organizations need to set an expectation for success and make engagement an organization-wide goal. That's the gist of a Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) report published in conjunction with the American Hospital Association's Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence strategic platform and funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The report, A Leadership Resource for Patient and Family Engagement Strategies, points to several benefits of patient engagement. Some, such as better outcomes and improved compliance with patient engagement regulatory reporting requirements, come as no surprise. Others drive deeper: Better adherence to recommended treatment regimens - after hip surgery, say - which reduces complications and re-hospitalizations, which reduces both institutional and individual care costs and improves patient satisfaction to boot.

As with so much of healthcare innovation, this is easier said than done, HRET says:

  • Physicians struggle to communicate with patients, even with the aid of electronic health record (EHR) software, and don't know how to follow through once a connection has been made.
  • Healthcare organizations face complicated patient data security requirements and often err on the side of not releasing information. On top of that, patient portals and clinical information systems can be costly, and at many intuitions patients remain a low priority with senior leadership.
  • Patients, already intimidated by the healthcare system, often avoid engagement efforts - and when they do participate, interest wanes over time.

Healthcare organizations that want to improve patient engagement need to take a methodical approach, the report continues:

  • First create, and then reinforce, a vision statement for patient engagement.
  • Hold forums with staff, patients and their families to learn where services are lacking and accordingly train staff at all levels on the need to integrate patient perspective into "all aspects of hospital planning, implementation and evaluation of programs and services."
  • Develop plans that encourage individual employees, care teams, the entire organization and the community at large to prioritize and achieve patient engagement goals.
  • Monitor progress, making sure senior leadership receives easy-to-read reports.
  • Finally, providing ongoing support, in part through resources that are made available to staff, patients and their families. (Don't forget about non-English speakers.)

Technology Helps Patients Track, Take Control of Their Health
For decades, Rohde says, healthcare has used the annual US News and World Report rankings as the "gold standard" in determining which hospitals are best. But those rankings receive no input from patients. It's like asking Porche and Ferrari mechanics to vote on who makes the best cars, she says.

To fill this gap - and to show patients which hospitals are best serving their needs - Axial has created a patient engagement index that rates institutions based on personal health management, patient satisfaction and social media engagement metrics. (Indices are currently available for California, Texas, Florida and New York.)


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