Vish Pasumarthy, CTO of University Hospitals Cutler Center for Men, is working to improve the care experience through the organization’s customized app.

Nov 29 2023

How Healthcare Is Optimizing Patient Engagement

Healthcare organizations are expanding their digital connections to boost patient engagement and improve the care experience.

Although Vish Pasumarthy isn’t a doctor, he’s familiar with how patient engagement can improve the care experience.

As the CTO of Cleveland-based University Hospitals Cutler Center for Men, Pasumarthy recently led the organization’s deployment of a customized app that he says “brings digital communication to the forefront of everything we do.” The tool was developed using Power Apps, a suite of low-code technologies and services available through Microsoft’s cloud-based Power Platform.

UH Cutler Center for Men was established in 2021 to address the fact that men are less likely than women to go to the doctor. In Cleveland alone, 250,000 fewer men than women see a doctor annually, contributing to a national shorter life expectancy than women, higher rates of cancer, behavioral health issues and more, according to the health system. UH Cutler Center for Men’s free program offers a concierge service where certified healthcare navigators called “Joes” work closely with program members to help them access much-needed care.

“Your Joe is like your wingman,” Pasumarthy says. “They’re somebody who’s going to speak to you at your level and explain things you may not otherwise understand or think to ask.”

When the program kicked off, the Joes used spreadsheets to manage their work, including their interactions with patients and providers. They had access to University Hospitals’ electronic health records system, but only directly through the system itself.

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In partnership with UH Ventures, the enterprise’s innovation and commercialization arm, Pasumarthy created a solution that would both power and empower the concierge team.

The HIPAA-compliant app, launched in 2022, uses automation, tracking and text-messaging capabilities to streamline what had been relatively cumbersome processes. Now, Pasumarthy says, the Joes at the center simply turn to their tablet devices for everything from patient registrations and appointment calendars to medical histories and personalized task lists.

The Joes can also text a member’s physician for clarification if a patient has questions about their treatment, and they can easily send educational information and communicate with members wherever they happen to be.

“It helps the Joes work a lot more efficiently and create a much more personalized experience for the people they’re serving,” Pasumarthy says. “What used to take them 30 minutes now takes three, and they’re connecting with members like they’re chatting with a buddy.”

Source: University Hospitals Cutler Center for Men

Recognizing the Need for Patient-Centric Tools

With more research supporting the thesis that healthcare outcomes improve when patients are active participants in their own care, many organizations are on much the same page as Pasumarthy and his colleagues at UH Cutler Center for Men.

Most health systems are currently investing in technologies that better connect patients and their providers, according to Adam Cherrington, vice president of digital health at KLAS Research. He’s the co-author of a 2023 report on the latest trends in patient engagement tools, which include platforms for self-scheduling and appointment registration, and online portals that make it easy for patients to view their records and request prescription refills.

Communication technologies such as UH Cutler Center for Men’s app are becoming more popular, Cherrington says, as are services such as virtual facility tours.

“Overall, this fits the narrative across industries of consumers looking for more access,” he says. “What we’re seeing is vendors and providers responding with patient-centric tools more aligned with those expectations.”

Meeting — and exceeding — patient expectations is a top priority at MUSC Health, the clinical system of the Medical University of South Carolina. Among the technologies the organization currently uses to bolster the patient experience and maximize engagement are a registration and intake tool that automatically sends patients personalized care recommendations and a revamped website with a chatbot that can help with appointment scheduling.

MUSC Health is also rolling out a new solution from Nuance and Microsoft that uses OpenAI’s GPT technology to automate clinical documentation. Chief Digital Transformation Officer Crystal Broj says the tool will save providers’ time while allowing them to pay more attention to patients.

“Instead of having to talk and type at the same time, they’ll be able to look their patient in the eye and have a personalized, one-on-one conversation,” Broj says. “That’s a totally different experience for most patients and clinicians, and we think it’s going to help our patients feel like they’re really being seen and heard.”

Patient Engagement Is Part of the Strategic Plan

Another organization laser-focused on personalization is Omaha-based Children’s Nebraska. Its work on patient engagement ties into the organization’s strategic plan, says Executive Vice President and Chief Information and Innovation Officer Jerry Vuchak.

“Our first goal is really to provide the safest, highest-quality care and an exceptional experience,” Vuchak says. “We’re always looking for ways to make that experience better, and one way we do it is through improving engagement with patients and their families.”

The organization took a big step in that direction with recent modifications to its patient portal based on feedback from family advisory council members. The platform, called Children’s Connect, now has “a better look and feel,” Vuchak says, and it’s integrated with a new wayfinding app called Children’s GO that families can use to navigate the health system’s campus.

READ MORE: Northwell Health CIO Sophy Lu discusses her perspective on change management.

The organization’s engagement push includes a new communication and entertainment system that guests can access through tablet devices at the bedside. Patients and families use the bedside platform to watch movies, play games, access the patient portal and educational materials, and order meals and make service requests. They can also communicate with clinicians and other hospital staff.

“It’s basically services on demand,” Vuchak says. “If you need translation services, now we can provide that on the TV. If you want something to drink or eat, you can pull up the dining room menu and place your order.”

The organization is currently rolling out a limited version of the same system in its ambulatory setting, he adds. “If a child is in for dialysis or chemotherapy, now they can engage in technology that helps mitigate some of the burden of their medical treatment.”

As Children’s Nebraska plans for the future, it’s also increasing its work with wearable devices for remote patient monitoring. Patients with chronic asthma, for example, can now breathe into a special inhaler to transmit data back to the EHR, and the organization is testing another device that enables remote reporting of insulin levels.

The hope is to encourage patient engagement across every setting, Vuchak adds.

“It’s exciting to think about the possibilities,” he says. “There really are a lot of things we can do to make the healthcare experience better.”

Photography by Roger Mastroianni
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