Mar 07 2017
Patient-Centered Care

Digital Tools Empower Patients, Enhance Engagement

In the virtual revolution, portals, telemedicine and other tools are creating opportunity for greater patient engagement and finding ways to improve care.

Boosted by new mobile and online tools, patients and physicians are more in tune than ever before. Through greater access to online patient portals and personal healthcare records, 70 percent of patients say that they have become more engaged with their healthcare during the past two years, a 13 percent increase from just last year, according to CDW's 2017 Patient Engagement Perspectives study.

The 2017 survey, released at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s 2017 conference, evaluated 200 patients and 200 providers, including physicians and physician assistants, to assess the impact of digital tools on communication outreach efforts between the two groups. It found that patient portals and telemedicine are helping to increase patient engagement.

According to the poll, 71 percent of providers say improving patient engagement is a top priority at their organization — up from 60 percent in 2016 — and 80 percent of providers are working on a way to make personal healthcare records easier to access, a 13 percent jump from the previous year.

So what’s driving the swelling interest in increased communication from both sides?

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Patients More Involved, Thanks to Portals

With value-based care setting the scene for physicians to up patient satisfaction outside of the hospital room or doctor’s office, portals are proving to be valuable tools for doctors to engage and empower their patients. Online health portals offer patients the ability to send and receive messages to and from their physicians, view medical records, schedule appointments, request prescription refills, etc.

Sharing medical records can likely improve patient outcomes and the healthcare process. OpenNotes, a system that allows patients to access notes written by doctors, nurses, therapists and other physicians through a secure online web portal, is looking to help push this cultural change and improve patient care through greater engagement. Started in 2010, more than 12 million patients now have access to OpenNotes, and at least 20 health systems plan to join this year, according to the program’s website.

Through efforts like these, patient portal adoption has jumped. In the last year, the survey found there was a nearly 30 percent jump in the number of patients joining online healthcare portals. Currently 74 percent of patients say they have joined a portal offered by their provider.

“Over the last year, online patient portals have surpassed web-based access to healthcare information as the number one method for encouraging patient engagement for both patients and providers,” the survey finds.

As patients over 50 become more comfortable with the web-based services and nearly all patients feel comfortable communicating through portals, physicians feel these portals are helping to improve patient care, record keeping and office efficiency.

In order to continue pushing greater patient engagement through the digital tool, providers suggest first identifying what patients are looking for in a portal and implementing an easy-to-use interface to ensure patients of every knowledge and education level are able to use the system.

But in order for the number of engaged patients to keep growing, they will need to understand what the portal can offer.

“Educate patients on portals during visits: make it clear how, when and why patients should use the portal to increase engagement,” the survey suggests.

Telemedicine Acceptance Still on the Horizon

By 2020, telehealth video consultations are expected to soar to 158.4 million annually, up from just 19.7 million in 2014, according to a report by Tractica. Lifted by an increasingly digital patient pool and technology advances such as smartphones, smart watches and mobile applications, the outlook for telemedicine looks fairly optimistic.

But neither patients nor physicians seem ready to move to a completely virtual arena just yet. In fact, only 20 percent of patients are “very comfortable” with the idea of telemedicine. Doctors are even less trusting of the new tech — only 9 percent of physicians report feeling very comfortable with the idea of telemedicine, citing privacy concerns and their ability to have a thorough consultation among their reasons for hesitation. Further, only 30 percent of patients say telemedicine would be somewhat or very valuable in allowing them to become more engaged in their healthcare.

Patient and provider comfort levels are just two of the barriers to heavier telemedicine adoption, according to recent reports by the American Telemedicine Association.

“Our analysis reveals a mix of strides and stagnation in state-based policy despite decades of evidence-based research highlighting positive clinical outcomes and increasing telemedicine utilization,” the ATA said in a recent report outlining barriers to the growing use of telemedicine.

A lack of return on investment could also be a reason for slow telemedicine adoption. A study by the Rand Corporation on direct-to-consumer telehealth suggests that while telemedicine offers more convenient care for some patients, such as those with acute respiratory illness, it also compounds healthcare spending.

“Compared to an in-person visit, the convenience of telehealth led to greater use of care and therefore increased health care spending,” the report found.

Still, as adoption continues to rise, implementing creative methods, such as integrating telehealth into overall care, increasing patient cost sharing and implementing more targeted patient outreach, could help to boost the value of care through telehealth as its popularity continues to grow.

gpointstudio/iStock/Thinkstock Photo

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