The Unexpected Effects Of Greater Patient Engagement

By Rick Halton, VP of Product & Marketing, Lumeon • Article originally published at Health IT Outcomes

The way that medical care is delivered is undergoing a sea change.

It starts with an increasing emphasis on value-based care, defined by tying payment to patient health outcomes. Better outcomes are known to be influenced by the level of patient engagement—good things happen when patients play a bigger role in their own healthcare.

So healthcare organizations are prioritizing efforts to engage patients and see them as partners in a more robust, holistic approach to care. The goal is to shift organizations from provider-centric to customer-centric, training focus on individual needs, accessibility, and technologically enabled care integration.

To understand what a patient-centric operational model looks like, think of the health system as an airport and the patient as a passenger. It’s easy to have the patient land in the airfield. But then what? What does it take to get the baggage off the plane? What about security? Do travelers have easy access to retail and dining, first aid, customer assistance, etc.? How can a healthcare organization become as efficient as an airport at providing and choreographing all the services necessary to make a customer feel taken care of?

Right now, health systems are very much in the “airfield” stage. Care is confined to within the four walls of the institution, with little communication with the “passenger” before or after they visit. While they are at the facility, patients’ interactions with various specialists are likely siloed and uncoordinated, leaving patients to go from place to place, wait long periods to see busy specialists whose schedules aren’t coordinated, and answer the same questions again and again. It’s like having to bring your bag from one airplane to the next during a layover instead of having that necessary synchronization done for you.

Most healthcare organizations simply don’t yet have the tools to run a fully orchestrated environment. Effective and powerful tools are emerging in the industry, but putting these in place takes leadership, organizational wherewithal, funding availability, and technological maturity. But those institutions that are embracing these tools are finding remarkable new possibilities for the delivery of care.

So, what does a truly patient-oriented care environment look like?

Consider pre-surgical optimization. In an orchestrated, patient-centered model, healthcare providers can screen patients up front to understand the unique needs of each particular case. The right tests can be ordered in plenty of time and care preferences reviewed and recorded. Low-risk patients can be fast-tracked for surgery sooner while high-risk patients can get the extra interventions they require beforehand. Providers can communicate pre-surgical instructions to patients in the weeks or days before the procedure, ensuring that they arrive at the hospital optimally physically prepared. The clinical team can be brought into this process at the moments when their presence or expertise are most advantageous, freeing up their time to concentrate on robust patient care.

In this scenario, patients are at the center of their care. Being listened to, attended to, and seen by their healthcare providers, sometimes for the first time in their lives. They are explicitly empowered to be involved in their care, to learn the details, and to initiate contact when they have questions and concerns.

This arrangement is a boon to patients, but it presents challenges for providers. The technology to enable a full orchestration has not been available until recently. And while solutions are coming online, the shift toward this model remains in its early stages.

When healthcare institutions do prioritize greater patient engagement, they typically face three main challenges:

  1. 1. The volume of communication can be overwhelming. Healthcare institutions have difficulty keeping up high levels of patient engagement that goes on outside of the four walls of the hospital. Many aren’t prepared to manage the volume of communication required to get and keep patients involved in their own care. Providers will need to adapt and streamline communication between patients and providers, particularly in a way that allows providers to track patient needs between visits.
  2. 2. The need for coordination runs into disjointed operations. To create a customer-oriented environment, healthcare institutions must coordinate care from various specialists and departments. But this can be stymied by hospitals’ traditional disjointed approach to care, where cross-disciplinary processes may lack a clear “owner” for each patient. Some institutions may not even have a full sense of what is required to track and facilitate patients’ care journeys from start to finish.
  1. 3. Catering to patient-oriented priorities can strain resources. Healthcare institutions can deliver care with a brutal efficiency that undermines healing by disregarding patient needs, or they can deliver care in more thoughtful, complex ways that promote healing but may put a strain on institutional resources. Providing better care without strain requires finding ways to deliver the more patient-sensitive care more efficiently. Today, a mix of modern communication capabilities and data analytics work to enable automation, which can provide that level of needed efficiency.

Any healthcare institution working to become more patient-centric will face these (and surely other) challenges. But these obstacles are possible to overcome thanks to advancements in technology that enable greater coordination, automation, and efficiency. Undertaking the complex process of instituting this technology and refining new processes is worthwhile to achieve the benefits of greater patient engagement – from better delivery of care and more efficient resource use, to improved patient satisfaction, and ultimately, enhanced outcomes.