Communication is the most important factor for human relationships. This is true for patient-provider relationships as well. The more connected and engaged your patients are, the more likely they will be to follow advice, take responsibility for their health, and do proper visit follow-up activities. Certainly, patient engagement was a main focus in the HITECH Act which established Meaningful Use (MU) Stage 1 and 2 incentives.
If you don’t think people like tracking their own health with technology, just check out the wide array of web and software applications for nutrition and exercise. Fitbits anyone? So, if people are okay with this type of technology, now’s the time for medical providers to embrace tech and use it as a tool to engage patients.
Here are a few ways providers can engage patients through technology:
Chances are pretty good that your patients have a smartphone. Engage them before they even walk in your door. Offer easy, fast online check-in. Give them the ability to sign-up for a personal online portal to see visit or lab/test results without coming to the clinic.
Talking is the best tool for betterment, and many people prefer talking digitally these days. Offer two-way provider-patient emails (through a patient portal) so patients can talk directly with their doctor or nurse if they have questions after the visit. This develops relationships—and encourages interaction.
HIPAA compliance will keep specific patient info behind a login, but providers or staff can still send notifications for general info, such as scheduled visit reminders, or immunization suggestions. With a patient portal, patients can also digitally view doctor notes, test results, schedule appointments, and pay bills.
During the visit, many patients (and providers) feel disconnected because of the need to chart details on a tech device. Usually this is because there’s less eye contact and direct dialogue between individuals. While documenting, keep engagement with the patient by keeping your face and body toward them as you speak and enter info. When using a tablet, review the patient’s medical history with them on the device itself. Explain to them what you’re documenting—this will help them feel more involved.
At the moment, the integration of patient-worn devices with EMRs is limited. However, the future will include the interfacing of these devices so providers can have a better overall look at patient health. Picture a doctor knowing weeks of a patient’s heart rates, rather than one snap-shot in time when the patient comes in for a visit. The integration of patient-worn devices will also help providers predict issues—and arrive at more accurate diagnoses.
Depending on your practice, this might not be a practical idea. But with the large needs for care in the future, tele-medicine will become a primary way that many Americans, especially the elderly, rural, and home-bound, will receive care. Phone calls, video chat, and online meetings will all be ways patients and providers will engage for virtual doctor appointments. You can test this application with patients (provided they have the necessary devices) with simple discussions, like scheduling, follow-ups, or personal consultations.
Technology is the bridge that connects humans, including patients and providers. It’s true that each generation will become more comfortable with technology, and even expect it to be integrated with healthcare. Make sure you’re staying on top of the new ways tools can help further relationships.
As with all things new, there can be resistance to change—especially with technology. This resistance more often than not comes when technology doesn’t work the way it’s designed. Don’t let the limitations of technology outweigh the multitude of efficiencies it could provide your clinic staff—and the benefits it can provide for patient engagement. After all, the most powerful advocate for an individual’s health is the patient himself.