Stage 2 Patient Engagement is a Tough Hurdle, and It’s a Toothless, Un-enforceable Mandate

The fact that mandatory Stage 2 patient engagement is considered one of the largest meaningful use hurdles should come as a surprise to no one. If it is, that’s somewhat similar to saying that the day before a presidential election you still haven’t decided who you are going to vote for.

I think at this point it’s pretty short sighted to disregard this fact. Healthcare reform does not (yet) reform patients; it’s still a set of mandates for those in the field, practicing in the field and drawing money from the system.

Meaningful use is meaningless as far as patients are concerned. In almost every case they don’t know what it is nor do they care. They’ll only care when one of two things happen. You can take this to the bank: 1.) they are forced to pay or contribute financially in some way or 2.) you take away their right to care (in other words, you mandate them to do something in some way.)

I speak from experience gained from my time leading communication programs for a mandated statewide health insurance program.

If we want to hold patients responsible for their health outcomes, we need to either take away their right in some regard or tax them for their behavior. This is also commonly known as a sin tax. You smoke and you pay the tax on cigarettes.

I’m being a bit overly dramatic on purpose and I don’t recommend either of the two points above, but we should be fully aware that putting meaningful use in the hands of the patients are going to produce disappointing results for every physician and practice hoping to achieve Stage 2.

Just because a practice implements a patient portal doesn’t mean patients will use it. I have used my doctor’s patient portal. Even as a technology enthusiast and healthcare writer, I don’t particularly find it fun to use nor do I find it really helps me engage with my physician. Sure, I can send some emails and pay some bills through it, but that’s just the case. To me, it’s more of a bill pay system and I’m sure I’m not alone here. How many of you enjoy using your credit card company’s online bill pay system?

The only good news on this front is that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services might have finally figured this out and may allow for an exception to the ill-conceived requirement, despite Kathleen Sebelius’ insistence that a measure of patient engagement be included in the Stage 2 requirement.

But, I’m not holding my breath that what’s best for physicians in regard to meaningful use attestation will be upheld, though, when the only response to physician frustration over the requirement because patients are not showing any interest is for physicians to “push” their users to use it.

In principal, that response is a lot like breaking a toothless law. Sure a law is on the books, and you broke it, but there’s nothing that you can do about it.

And, as anyone who works in communications understands, push communications only goes so far in the 21st century and not nearly as far as it may have 15 or 20 years ago.

Push and pull; now that’s the kind of conversations that engage. You give, you take; you speak, you listen.

Anything else is nothing but mandatory arrogance from political forces far from the field of actual care.