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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.

Such rankings matter in part due to healthcare reform, which through the ACO model places added emphasis on care coordination. This means everything from follow-up phone call 48 hours after a hospital visit to online bill payment and appointment scheduling to health information exchange to helping patients track vital signs and other important health metrics, Rohde says.

When patients track their progress and share that data with doctors, they take control of their own health, she continues. With chronic diseases making up such a large chunk of what's estimated to be $3 trillion in American healthcare expenses in 2013, giving patients better ways to manage those conditions in their own homes will help prevent repeated, and costly, trips to the hospital.

Smartphones 'Untapped' Patient Engagement Resource
That's the aim of the patient engagement efforts underway at University of Colorado Health. The facility is taking a two-pronged approach to engagement, says Kory Swanson, director of marketing and communications: Interacting with patients when they're in the hospital and then giving them tools to manage their health once they're discharged.

For example, a community outreach effort known as HealthyU provides wellness, fitness and nutrition tips through in-person and online resources. The related HealthyU Adventures iPhone app lets people earn points by tracking simple activities such as drinking water, eating fruits and vegetables, walking and having a good, hard laugh. Users can also find activities and events in nearby northern Colorado.

Patients, meanwhile, can use the Axial Patient app to track weight and blood pressure, among other things. This helps patients measure their progress and doctors take a more granular look at data to try and determine why a particular patient's weight or blood pressure is spiking, Swanson says.

With so much of the population carrying smartphones, it only makes sense for patients to use the devices to track vital signs, as well as more subjective characteristics such as mood, he adds. "I'm excited to see where the healthcare app industry heads. If you look at the technology that we're carrying around in our pockets, there's untapped areas that are pretty cool to see unfold."

Rohde agrees, noting that Axial aims to start where healthcare providers leave off - even chronically ill patients spend mere hours with a doctor over the course of a year. Someone suffering from headaches, for example, needs to know where they're happening and what's triggering them, whether it's food, stress, travel or poor sleep patterns. This will help the patient see undiscovered patterns and share this information with his or her doctor. "All of a sudden, you guys are working together," Rohde says.

Institutions can also realize population health management benefits from such interactions, she says, as they can better understand which patients are taking care of themselves when they leave the hospital, and to what extent. With these details, institutions can better tailor the information that's distributed at discharge and, as cardiologist and mobile health advocate Dr. Eric Topol suggests, prescribe an app. "That kind of visibility has been completely missing," Rohde says.


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