​​​​​​​Patient engagement tech gains traction, but costs a concern

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Providers find patient engagement tools useful, but the majority believe they should be covered by payers. (Image: Getty/filrom)

Providers say patient engagement tools offer a variety of benefits, including a reduction in unnecessary visits, but the costs of the products are a barrier to widespread use, according to a new survey.

The main reason the tools haven't been widely adopted is that they're not covered by insurance, about half of the 595 respondents to NEJM Catalyst’s Insights Council survey said. And 61% of all respondents say payers should cover those items. 

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Despite those concerns, the survey respondents, which included clinicians, clinical leaders and executives, note that patient engagement tools, like wearable tech, smartphone applications or online portals can be very useful in treating patients with chronic disease. About two-thirds of respondents said these tools promote patient efforts to be healthy, and about 60% said they offer needed data on patient conditions when they’re not in for a visit.

Having data that allows for an earlier intervention in patient care can prevent unneeded hospital visits and reduce overcrowding, according to the survey. But, these tools need to provide that data to doctors in a way that’s easily digestible. A number of the survey respondents (46%) expressed concern that many patient engagement tools don’t interact directly with electronic health records, which are already a source of time management headaches for docs.

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“Telling me that some technology will automatically send me [a diabetic patient’s] numbers is not helpful; I need to see them in an easily readable way at the time I see the patient in the office,” one respondent said.

Online portals are one of the most commonly-used patient engagement tools, with 88% of respondents to a previous Catalyst survey rating them favorably. Portals offer patients an easy way to access scheduling information, test results and other key data on their care. Effective patient portals should be personalized and interactive, experts say.