Will Lack of Patient Engagement Cost Physicians Their Stage 2 Incentives? Yes, It’s Possible

Meaningful use stage 2 is moving in the direction of patient engagement. The next phase in the federal incentive program sets the bar for it, but certainly doesn’t leave it here. Certainly, patients were part of stage 1, but now, they must take greater ownership of their care; probably one of the only ways we’ll actually see the needle move in regard to long-term health outcomes changes for the population.

Engagement of the patients, it is believed, will move all patients toward better choices and possibly healthier lifestyles, which obviously makes for a healthier population.

But given all of the rhetoric on the subject, and the fact that each of us is subjective, aren’t we really talking about something rather subjective?

Say what?

Let me try to put it in terms that even I can understand: everyone talks about how patients must be more engaged – at the practice level, at the provider level and even at the vendor level (which is my belief) – but when it’s actually time to involve patients in their care, how is this done?

Well, one of the most popular answers is through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Bringing, or participating in, conversations about healthcare and interacting with patients online is considered to be a highly effective ways of reaching a broad audience, building a healthcare community, and educating and engaging patients.

But not everyone feels social media is the silver bullet. For example, I recently spoke with IDC Health Insights’ research director, Judy Hanover, who during our conversation said she thinks the healthcare community has become too infatuated with social media. She doesn’t see it as a truly effective means for engaging patients long term.

Certainly, social media has its place in building the physician/patient relationship, but its is limiting. Except for a very few people who like and want to share their personal health records online, most of us just don’t care to go into the specifics of our conditions in such a public forum.

So, the debate returns to healthcare information technology and the patient portal.

Online portals are designed to give patients anytime access to their health information. From a provider and vendor perspective, these tools have a great deal to do with meeting stage 2. For the patients, too, I suppose.

With the requirement that provider given patients access to online health information for viewing, downloading and transferring, and a second threshold requiring providers to push patient usage of this technology, it’s obvious the portal is a powerful player in this game.

I’ve written in the past about this issue and how the burden falls on the provider to engage patients through the portal to essentially secure incentive payments for stage 2.

Some do worry about their ability to meet the patient engagement requirement. I can imagine practices in rural areas or those that serve an older population may have some concerns.

Relying on a patient action to secure your incentive, especially after all of the work taken to meet the remainder of the MU requirements may seem like a blow to some. It would to me since my personality is one in which I like to have control of a project and not have to worry about outliers potentially derailing my progress (this sort of thing happens all of the time in school on group projects, right?)

So, how we do avoid this and encourage patients to use the portal?

What’s probably the best summation I’ve come across on the subject is in an interview Physicians Practice’s Aubrey Westgate conducted with Peter M. Kilbridge, a senior research director with The Advisory Board Company’s Information Technology. You can listen to it here.

Kilbridge’s perspective is valuable, and the tips he provides are easily accomplishable.

For example, to encourage use of the patient portal, practices should tell patients about it, and simply encourage them to use it and to talk about its capabilities. Highlight the portal’s capabilities, he says, and what it can do for patients and how it can make their live easier.

He says to highlight functions patients care about: viewing labs, sending questions, scheduling appointments. Follow it up by sending an email and paper mail reminder during about the upcoming visits or reminder

“Early success breeds confidence,” said Peter Kilbridge.

Still, the patients are truly empowered in stage 2, and all of the work invested on the part of the healthcare community might seem like it’s trivialized by the requirement needed to secure incentives.

This issue is being looked into, but currently there is no exception in place.

Is losing your incentive for stage 2 the price you’ll pay for lack of patient engagement? It certainly is a possibility?