This is the second of a two-part series on patient engagement. Part one focused on the need to be less passive in healthcare. Read Part 1 here.
This post examines how healthcare professionals can be more proactive in working with patients.
When I hit my 10-year mark of being cancer free, I left the manufacturing controller position I held because I am very passionate about making healthcare better. I’ve watched over the years how technology has helped improve many aspects of this journey and am excited about where it has yet to go. I joined a major cancer institute, where I got to see first-hand the tremendous amount of effort that goes into coordinating care during cancer diagnose and treatment.
Coordination of care is one of the most labor-intensive processes I witnessed in all my career. The processes we currently use – to educate patients, coordinate access and engage them in their care – are inefficient, disorganized and often ineffective. I saw stacks of file folders, paper copies of information, faxes and emails with relevant information about patients, with no way for the patients and providers to use this information. It is no wonder that the healthcare relationship is so one-sided. The processes and tools in place today make it very hard for caregivers to have meaningful dialogue with their patients. And I was working at one of the best hospitals in the country.
Layer on a patient who doesn’t have much in the way of medical literacy or is overwhelmed by socioeconomic factors or has additional medical complications, and the task becomes even more challenging. And the consequences go far beyond mere convenience. There is real-world evidence that engaged patients have better outcomes and lower costs.
Healthcare is about relationships and service. It’s a fairly new concept to think of patients as customers, but when we do, it opens up a new approach to care. When we look at the tools used by other customer-focused industries, we discover new ways to proactively engage patients and make the task of communication and coordination much easier.
Imagine if my healthcare providers could use technology to build a profile around who I am, not just my clinical notes, prescription information and allergies, and link my children to my profile and segment me into categories based on where I am in this journey. This would allow my providers to interact with me in a more meaningful way, better coordinate my care and feed information to me that is relevant to me. And begin to do the same for my daughter.
But being more proactive with diagnosed patients is just the beginning. Think about all the patients who are at high risk for chronic diseases, but have not yet been diagnosed. Many chronic ailments, such as diabetes, has a window of opportunity in which changes in life habits can avert the disease, or at the very least, make it much less severe. But by the time most patients engage with the healthcare system, that window is often shut. We end up treating the symptoms and complications, losing the opportunity to prevent the disease.
Healthcare has largely been passive with these patients, but that is starting to change. For example, TechSpring, the healthcare technology innovation center run by Baystate Health, has developed an analytics solution that identifies patients at risk of developing chronic disease who have not yet been diagnosed.
Evan Benjamin, MD, who has helped to develop the solution, said, “When we think about population health, the next frontier for us is this concept of rising risk…that group of patients who will develop a significant disease over the next 12 months.”
Using both clinical data and socioeconomic data to identify people who are at high risk for disease, Baystate can then proactively engage people at a time when there is a greater possibility of preventing disease and complications. They can concentrate their resources on these patients, who need help but may not yet realize it.
That is the opposite of the “passive boyfriend” model of engagement that we have been used to. Imagine having your healthcare provider make the first move, providing you with information, resources and help without your having to ask for it! When I think about what that would have meant to me, back when I was going through cancer treatment, and I am moved beyond words.
Technology will play a big part in moving healthcare from passive, reactive care to engaged and proactive care. We do not have the luxury of adding more and more people to improve interactions, we have to get there through technology. We will have to create a cohesive platform, beyond Electronic Health Records systems, where caregivers can see a complete picture of a patient’s life and needs and manage the relationship for maximum, proactive engagement based on each patient’s needs
With the right technology, we can not only identify people early who need help, we can also create a relevant conversation with every patient, providing them the information and resources they need at the time and place they need it to live healthy lives. We will be communicating and engaging through multiple digital channels, sometimes automatically, and coordinating access to care for those who need it.
My hope is that, in the near future, no patient will have to struggle to get the attention of a passive healthcare system. Instead, the healthcare system will actively engage every person in a rich journey toward health.