Those who conceived and brought meaningful use to life can apparently chalk up another victory, according to a new survey conducted by Accenture.
As told by For the Record, patients overwhelming want access not only to their medical records and personal health information through connected devices (mobile or otherwise), but they also want direct electronic access to their physicians.
By “access to their physicians,” I mean they want to interact with their caregivers through web portals and email. Actually, respondents of this survey (88 percent) said they want to receive email appointment reminders from their physicians, while 76 percent of survey takers said they want the option of email consultations directly with their physicians.
Enter the patient portal. Secure, web-based portals that, for most EHR systems, allow patients the opportunity to interact directly with their physicians, view lab results (in certain non-overly sensitive cases), schedule appointments and make payments, among other things. The same patient portals that are required ingredients of meaningful use certified EHR systems.
Despite the arguments over the benefits or lack thereof of meaningful use, the requirement that EHRs contain patient portals so patients and their caregivers can interact with each other seems to be giving the patients exactly what they want.
In the very least, at least according to the results of this survey, patients are more likely to engage with physicians and take greater ownership of their care if they are simply allowed to communicate with their doctors electronically.
And given the seemingly current lack of patient engagement that’s prevalent in our healthcare community, anything that sparks interest in patients should be considered a welcome sign to every healthcare professional. After all, patient engagement will continue to become more popular as consumers take greater ownership of their care as they discover that their healthcare providers are actually easier to access because of electronic health records and patient portals.
Unfortunately, however, the average patient doesn’t know whether his physician offers a practice portal or if the practice uses an EHR as fewer than half of the 1,100 survey participants in the Accenture study didn’t know whether they had access to such systems.
Despite this minor detail, there’s plenty in this survey to celebrate. Specifically, patients clearly want to access their health records electronically and they want to be able to connect with their physicians when they want or need through any connected device wherever they are in the world.
The other good news here, for practice professionals anyway, is that there is plenty of room for and an abundance of opportunity to educate patients about a practice’s internal technology systems. Patients clearly want to know more about the technology their physicians are using in their practices.
If you don’t currently have these systems in place, engaging patients is a great way to find out what they might like to see from you in the future and, if nothing else, the information gathered helps you build and develop your practice and tailor it to your customer’s needs.
As in all areas of life, social media also permeates healthcare. As practice leaders, hospitals and facilities, and providers wrestle with strategies for capitalizing on the communication forum, some have found success while others continue to struggle.
For each person that has made the attempt, though, valuable experiences have been gained, some worth sharing.
In the piece, Sevilla offers advice to physicians about the need to engage in regular and ongoing social media activities.
Physicians, he says, must begin to interact with patients and the public through a variety of social channels including blogs for no other reason than because patients are beginning to demand it. Without the outside the office interactions, patients begin to disengage from their physicians and seek alternative sources who are willing to meet them where the live.
Seville offers a few compelling reasons for physicians and their practices to engage socially, including:
Social media allows physicians the opportunity to tell their story – telling your story provides evidence of your experience and helps establish you as a leader in the space. Doing so also helps patient consumers have a reason to “buy in” to your system.
Social media allows you to find a community – by connecting with others, you are able to establish bonds, develop stronger collaboration with peers and bring people together for a unified cause.
Social media allows you to discover your passions outside the practice – social media helps you explore new ventures and avenues for creating relationships and bonds outside of the practice.
Social media leads to free marketing opportunities – social media helps you connect with others, Sevilla said. Those connections mean you are marketing yourself and your practice without having to spend anything but your time.
Social media allows physicians the opportunity to manage their online reputations – conversations are taking place about many of us, physicians or not. If we know what is being said, you can help protect ourselves and your practices.
There are a few things Sevilla fails to mention in the piece, though.
For example, social media is more than about building one’s own brand and developing recognition for one’s own efforts. Engaging in social media is about creating relationships with others; specifically, patients.
As such, when using social media tools in the healthcare setting, you must stay close to your customers. Social media can, and should, be used to generate conversations with the public and build relationships with those you are serving. In doing so, you gain ground in each of the areas Sevilla mentions above.
In addition, physicians and practice leaders may consider using social media as an educational tool for patients. With less than 10 minutes of face time with a physician on average, patients can turn to their social media tools to learn more about a certain procedure, to ask generalized questions or to learn how the practice’s online patient portal, appointment setting or how billing and payment processes work.
Also, consider using your Twitter feed to ask questions of your patients. Conduct informal surveys asking for feedback about visit times, practice hours or services offered. Set up a weekly or monthly lunch-hour Twitter chat where a physician takes generic questions from the public or set aside a week each month to provide health and wellness tips about certain conditions.
The results of these efforts may surprise you. And soon, you’ll discover that conversations on social media are two way rather than one sided. Perhaps you’ll even have your own strategies to share.
Patient engagement will continue to become more popular as consumers take greater ownership of their care and begin to discover that their health information should actually be easier to access because of electronic health records and patient portals. However, patients must have reason to engage for this trend to become less of a trickle and more of a flood.
Healthcare technology is meant to allow more access to, and increase the availability of, patient’s health information. At least that’s one of the desired outcomes of the push (meaningful use and federal incentives) to lure physicians to adapt the systems.
Sterling Lanier, CEO of Tonic Health, succinctly sums up lack of patient engagement in a recent editorial published by For the Record magazine.
In it, he states that healthcare, like government, is filled with vernacular and jargon – HIEs, EHRs, ACOs, HIT, et al. – and the more these terms continue to be used, the less likely patient consumers are going to interact and engage with the healthcare community, and to take ownership of their own care outcomes.
As Lanier notes, and as I have often thought, to bring patients into the conversation, they have to be treated like consumers and they must have a reason to “buy” into the system. In this case, consumers must “buy” the information given to them. If they buy and own it, they’ll want more of it, or so goes the prevailing thought.
But simply speaking in terms the natives will understand isn’t enough. Consumers need to better understand how the technology they encounter at the doctor’s office helps produce better care outcomes. They may need some education and certainly they need some engagement once the systems are in place and being used during the visit.
Though patients will interact with the EHR less frequently than other technology they encounter, such as the patient portal (which they can actually use and interact with on their own), that doesn’t mean the EHR should be ignored during the interaction or treated as a foreign concept. In most cases, let’s remember, healthcare is actually behind many other consumer markets so consumers are actually more versed in the use and capabilities of similar systems outside their doctor’s office. Besides, we’re like children with devices and must test drive things like smart phones, televisions and computers as we learn to use them; we like to get our hands on the technology to try it out to satisfy our child-like need to see with our hands.
Even though patients can’t “touch” their EHRs, we can watch the information we provide our doctors being entered into the system; we can speak with our caregivers as they toggle and tab; and we can engage clinicians as they review our profiles and medical records. As a patient of a doctor with an EHR, I ask questions about the system: what it does, who makes it, why it was chosen and if it layout closely resembles the clinics’ past paper charts. I feel better about the little details and doing so makes me feel as though my doctor is listening to me during the visit.
Asking me these questions engages me more in my healthcare, and more than likely, engages my doctor in my care and outcomes.