Will Someone Please Tell Me Why Engaged Patients Are a Bad Thing?

According to a new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, patients with online access to their medical records were more likely to engage with their physicians, in person and through electronic communication.

Apparently, this is the case for patients of all ages despite whether or not they were diagnosed with a chronic condition.

Likewise, for these same patients, there financial outlay for services was also greater than their counterparts who had no such access to their medical records online.

The Journal suspects a few reasons for this, including: “patients need ‘better, faster, cheaper’ processes of care for diagnosing, treating and monitoring their health. Online access to care may have led to an increase in use of in-person services because of additional health concerns identified through online access. Members might have activated their online access in anticipation of health needs. Members who are already more likely to use services may selectively sign up for online access and then use this technology to gain even more frequent access rather than view it as a substitute for contact with the health care system.”

These results really do seem to mean that there is a verifiable correlation between patient portals and patients’ ability to access records online whenever they want. The findings also suggest that the portals, and subsequent secure electronic communication, encourage patients to interact with their physicians, ask questions, seek treatment and engage.

Even with the spike in expense these folks are adding to the system, this is probably some of the most positive insight to come out, and support the healthcare community, especially as they embark on their role of working toward stage 2 meaningful use attestation.

However, it’s worth pointing out that the one thing that seems to be generating the most buzz in relation to this data are the healthcare expenses the individuals are generating, and I just don’t understand. Someone please help set me straight here. Why is this a bad thing?

If I’m speaking out of turn, please correct me, but here’s how I see this playing out, assuming the information released by JAMA is true.

First, patient portals really do seem to be engaging patients as long as they know to use the system, how to use it and what to use it for. Because they are using the system, they are becoming more concerned about their health and having conversations with their physicians about their concerns.

Next, they want to address their health concerns, so they seek the counsel of their professional healthcare provider. Said counsel costs money and they are paying for the care they seek, therefore, helping build their physician’s practices.

Additionally, because patients are using the system, the practices are meeting the minimum requirements for mandates and will be able to successfully attest to stage 2.

Once the patients receive the care they need, they return to their lives until another ailment shows its head, at which point they return to the portal and continue to engage.

All said, you have an engaged patient population who look to create and value long-term relationships with their physicians and their physicians are able to support and build their practices, and, wait for it … support their patients.

It’s the circle of “life,” if you will. As the population scales beyond those included in the survey, this model is likely going to be the new normal.

Please, please, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this exactly the type of news and headlines everyone with an investment in meaningful use was waiting/hoping for?

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