Most health IT solutions today focus on improving the workflows and efficiency of healthcare providers. But what about the pivotal role that patients play in achieving improved health outcomes? What happens in the patient journey during the long stretches between onsite visits?
The movement to bridge the chasm between patients and episodic visits with care providers is mounting. Patient mobile apps represent a promising opportunity to improve patient experience and engagement, close gaps in care, and bring at-home insights to clinicians. Unfortunately, most patient engagement development has failed to move beyond meeting minimum meaningful use requirements. However, as healthcare consumerism and patient choice grow, patients and providers alike are looking for better ways to engage throughout the patient journey.
What’s driving poor patient app adoption?
Many healthcare apps have not been successful because they fail to connect the patient and provider experience and focus instead on only one of them. Engagement apps that fall short of offering true interaction to patients and workflow integration to providers invariably suffer poor adoption and early abandonment rates.
Patient apps developed by EHR vendors inherently view functionality through the lens of provider support. Accustomed to building tools for physicians, many health IT providers mimic the clinical interface, which can result in cumbersome workflows that are less easily accepted by consumers.
Apps built by patients suffer the inverse. With little knowledge of provider and practice workflows, patient-developed apps fail to meet the needs of clinicians. Standalone solutions that don’t connect to the EHR are doomed to fail.
The promising news is that EHR vendors are increasingly opening up API access. This enables developers to build more sophisticated, EHR-integrated patient app resources. The ideal is to have one solution for patients (the patient app) and one for doctors (the EHR) and marry the two. This allows clinical staff to continue to work in their known environment without the disruption of new applications and workflows that can plague successful adoption.
A recipe for patient engagement success
To succeed, patient apps must support the needs of both providers and patients. Building an independent tool for patients that can cover the entire journey of care—beyond meeting meaningful use requirements by electronically logging the results of episodic visits—produces a win-win for patients and physicians. Effective patient apps are designed to:
- automate existing workflows in the practice, not disrupt
- amplify engagement between visits
- hold the patient’s hand throughout the care journey
- meet individual patient needs
- connect to the EHR to support improved physician decision-making
Communication is critical. A key factor in a good patient engagement solution is built-in patient communication tools—including telehealth, appointment scheduling, secure messaging, and remote monitoring resources. A common misconception among providers is that offering messaging means providers must be available all the time. Experience tells us that patients don’t mind a one- or two-day delay in response time if they know someone is on the other end to assist them. Care coordination team members or nurses can often tend to the majority of patient needs.
Mobile is a must. Patient engagement tools should be simple, stable, and easy to use. The evolution of mobile resources has made mobile applications a perfect conduit for patient engagement. Smartphones and tablets are the respective digital platforms of choice for younger and older patient populations. These mobile devices create a whole new anytime, anywhere connection experience with patients. Mobile notification and alert systems allow users to avoid the spam pit that can make important communications easy to overlook in email.
Patient feedback is paramount. Keen attention to technical support and end-user service helps create a feedback loop that can be used to continually improve patient app functionality. The better equipped patients are to support their care at home, the better the outcomes and benefits to providers. Solutions should be customized to best support the various needs of target patient populations.
EHR integration is imperative. EHR integration is the essential bridge between patient apps and providers. Integrated patient platforms enable providers to push tasks to patients, monitor if patients are following through, and then push outcomes data back into the EMR. The outsourcing of those tasks and keystrokes to patients results in time saved for providers and an improved sense of ownership among patients.
Above all, for a patient engagement application to succeed, it is important that patients feel like active participants in their health. Many present-day apps offer patients little more than a snapshot of vitals from their last onsite visit. Platforms must evolve to offer patients a broader array of communication channels, information they can use between visits, and an opportunity to broaden provider insight into health indicators at home, between visits.
Hear more from Monica on HealthcareNOW Radio’s This Just In, where she talks to host Justin Barnes about patient engagement and how education is empowerment. Take a listen.