How important is patient engagement in your practice?

How important is patient engagement in your practice?

Technology is changing the medical world as surely as it is changing everything else. New ideas and innovations are issued daily, with upgrades, add-ons, apps and other techie-type tools expanding the use and functionality of existing software. In 2009, the US federal government passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which offered incentives to federally-supported health care facilities to encourage improvements in the delivery of health care services. Improving the use of technology tools in that endeavor was also addressed by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). It is aimed at facilitating and reporting on the performance criteria required to be eligible to collect the incentives. HITECH-specific tools are aimed at collecting nation-wide data on critical health indicators and would be designed to collect and aggregate data from “Electronic Health Records” (EHR).

A fundamental key to the eventual effectiveness of the technology is its capacity to track medically relevant data. The law establishes the standard of “meaningful use” (MU), the notion that the expenditure of health care dollars should actually impact or improve health care outcomes. Set out in three phases, the “Meaningful Use” standards collect specific data regarding patient lifestyle, heritage and medication factors, as well as offer easy electronic access to medical records. Compliance with the standards results in a certification that declares the physician or facility eligible for the incentive dollars.

Recent research indicates that medical personnel engagement with the focused technology is still in the infancy stage, for a variety of reasons. One significant factor is the wide variety of available EHR systems. Many use rudimentary or basic systems while a much smaller share have more comprehensive systems and are used in a fashion that meets the MU criteria envisioned under the Recovery Act.

The studies also demonstrate a difference in how patients experience the tools versus how the medical professionals view them.

“Patient engagement” is the phrase used to describe increased involvement in medical discussions and decisions between patients and their doctors. Improved patient engagement is another goal of the federal law. A 2015 study indicates that patients are responding positively to technological advances in health-related gadgetry and appear willing to engage those advances in their health care decisions. Of the 2,000+ adults surveyed in the study:

  • Approximately 1680 respondents (84%) were aware that their doctor’s office had a ‘patient portal’ (EHR technology). Of those 1680 adults, 60% stated they would probably schedule an appointment with their doctor through the patient portal
  • Approximately 740 (37%) wore a fitness tracker device every day and, of those that wore a fitness tracker device every day, 78% believed the data from the device would be useful for their doctors
  • Approximately 540 (27%) said they would use the ‘telehealth’ visit (electronic versus face-to-face) all or most of the time, and 1280 (64%) said they would use that feature some of the time. Parents of children under 18 years said they would use the telehealth feature at least some of the time

Another study demonstrated that, on six significant ‘engagement’ points, medical offices using EHR technology that met the MU phase requirements had higher patient response percentages than offices that used technology that did not meet the MU standards:

Email communications: 37% versus 27%

Online scheduling/test results: 31% versus 10%

Education re online health information: 31% versus 17%

Mobile schedules, tests, records, payments: 26% versus 5%

Telehealth visits: 18% versus 10%

Reduced prices for routine online access: 5% versus 1%

In the study, physicians reported more administrative than medical value for their systems: 75% said a top benefit of an EHR was easier access to medical records for both the patient and physician; 75% reported the benefit of the ease of automatic alerts and reminders to patients; and, 56% reporting ease in scheduling or changing appointments. Also noted in the study: 71% of reporting physicians believed that adopting EHR or other health IT programs would ultimately result in higher costs; and, 60% believed that hospital-doctor relationships will suffer as hospitals shift to EHR programs.

Regarding obtaining mobile technology necessary to implement an EHR system in every aspect of the medical clinic, physicians reported that:

  • 43% were using tablets or other electronic devices within their practices
  • 44% said that their practice didn’t provide that opportunity and they didn’t want to use their own
  • 29% were concerned about patient privacy
  • 26% said there were no EHR tools that responded to their needs
  • 22% of those who weren’t using EHR technology had a plan to access it in the future

The split in expectations between physicians and patients about medical access EHR systems is significant because it appears that patients are more willing to engage with such systems than medical providers are willing to implement them. In another study, data showed that using such systems did result in “significant changes” in patients who had access to the technology. This study noted that tech-friendly patients had:

  • fewer office visits
  • fewer phone contacts
  • increased communications via electronic messages
  • increased changes in medication regimens
  • better adherence to treatment plans

Other industry observers note that EHR systems can actually reduce facility costs by moving expensive personnel-managed transactions (like billing, records retrieval and medication reviews) to technology programs.

There appears to be a disparity between doctors and their patients about the use of EHR systems. Patients appear to be willing to access the system for both convenience and health-related reasons while doctors appear to be concerned about the costs of implementing the system in the first place. However, the federal incentives can offset physician costs, and, in the long run, 73% of physicians reported their belief that health IT would eventually improve care quality.

Quality, comprehensive and MU phase software and technology are available today to reduce facility costs and improve patient engagement. Physicians who embrace the technological future can capture both the incentives and the reduced costs offered by these innovations to improve the overall health of their patients and their business. To learn how your busy practice can improve its administrative and medical activities, contact us.