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Patient Engagement in a Digital World

Written by: Shawn Hewitt on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 Posted in: Inpatient Rehab, Outpatient Rehab, patient care, patient engagement, practice management

patient engagement

As I am preparing to write this blog, I find myself torn between writing it in the mindset of a clinical product manager of software OR as a patient that receives care. Bear with me. I will probably bounce back and forth, but I feel that is OK because, as a clinical product manager of software, I should consider my interactions, observations, research, and life experiences as a patient. The topic today is related to patient experience and patient engagement. I have written about similar topics before in previous blogs, such as Patient Engagement Improves the Patient Experience and Patient Experience: Is a Smart Therapy Documentation System Important?.

Patient engagement is a topic I feel very passionate about. I recently read a very intriguing report called Industry Research: Healthcare and Life Sciences: 2017 Connected Patient Report. The report caption describes it as a “trail map for understanding todays digital patient.”

 Key focus areas:

  •  Doctor-patient communication today
  • Communication between patients and insurance companies
  • Pharma’s increasing role in patient outcomes
  • Why AI in health causes optimism and concern

Now, my interests are in post-acute care for inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, but I think the story this report tells is absolutely relevant for rehab providers.

The report starts off with a well-written introduction:

To understand how Americans communicate with their healthcare providers, insurance payers, and pharmaceutical firms — and their thoughts on up-and-coming technologies in healthcare such as artificial intelligence (AI) — Salesforce commissioned its “2017 Connected Patient Report.” The survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Salesforce from May 4-8, 2017, among 2,083 U.S. adults, ages 18 and older, among whom 1,893 have health insurance. The data shows that a number of American patients (defined as those who have health insurance and a primary care doctor) primarily communicate with their health insurance providers via the phone, but nearly three quarters of Americans think it’s important that their provider uses modern tools like web portals, live chat/instant message or two-way video. Patients are similarly open to communicating with pharmaceutical companies, with 83% stating they would share direct feedback about a medication with a drug company to help improve their ability to develop and support new medications. Finally, the report identified generational gaps regarding the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. While younger Americans are interested in AI like digital assistants in healthcare, older Americans tended to be more excited by AI if it can help their doctors spend more time to focus on their health.

The part of this report that really resonated with me was that, even though the good old telephone is a primary means to communicate with patients, “nearly three quarters of Americans think it’s important that their providers use modern tools like web portals, live chat/instant message, or two-way video.” This is an important stat. As providers, it will be our duty to make sure we can offer efficient and effective ways to communicate with our patients. That is communication both ways—provider to patient and, just as important (but often overlooked), communication from patient back to provider. For patients, this stat is important because, as care moves more to value-based models, we should demand more and better ways to have input and access to the plan and actual care that is provided. As patients, do we have tools that make it easier to engage in our care, and does that engagement improve our overall experience?

Another interesting part of the report was around the use of AI. Now, I have watched all the sci-fi thrillers that paint a world where AI takes over humans like the next person. We are not there yet. Some would argue that AI is dangerous. Others feel it can really help with tasks that take up human time and effort. It was interesting to see how the questions were asked for “AI in health causes optimism and concern.”

In summary:

  • Enthusiasm for the potential applications of artificial intelligence in healthcare varies by generation, with a majority of millennials (59%) indicating that they are excited about the potential of AI to positively affect healthcare compared to 33% of baby boomers.
  • When asked about currently available AI applications, baby boomers (28%) were significantly less likely than millennials (63%) to agree that they would be interested in a digital assistant to recommend personalized healthy habits, similar to how retailers recommend things to buy based on purchase history.
  • Of the baby boomers that are excited about the potential of AI in healthcare, 70% say the reason is that it can give doctors more time to focus on patient health, perhaps by taking care of more administrative tasks so doctors have more time to be with patients.
  • Among baby boomers that are concerned about the impact of AI on healthcare, 74% are worried about AI providing an incorrect diagnosis that is used over a doctor’s recommendation — something only 60% of millennials are worried about.

As I have stated before, technology is intertwined in all aspects of our lives. Healthcare is and will be no different. We can either let it hinder us, or we can embrace how to use it to better our overall experiences and interactions. I think as technology continually advances, patients and providers will have numerous tools available to really bridge a gap of meaningful ways to communicate and engage in the care provided. Providers AND patients should really be looking at pushing the envelope on ways that patients can share insight into their care as well as have access to their progress in an easy-to-understand format.  What do you think?

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