Survey: Patient engagement important, but loosely defined

What exactly is patient engagement? According to the National eHealth Collaborative's 2012 stakeholder survey released last month, there is little agreement among health leaders. They currently use a variety of definitions that range from patients having access to educational materials to patients using their own electronic health record to transmit data to outside organizations.

Survey respondents may not define patient engagement the same way, but an overwhelming 95 percent said the issue is "very important" or "important" in transforming healthcare. Only 5 percent called it "somewhat important," while no respondents characterized it as "not important."

Kate Berry, CEO of NeHC, told Fierce Healthcare that the combination of a definition in flux and near-unanimous agreement on patient engagement's importance point to the need for continued industry attention. "Given where health IT is as an industry-it's still so new-I think it's appropriate that people are thinking about consumer engagement in lots of different ways," she said. "These findings reinforce that we need to think broadly at this point."

However patient experience is defined, the stakes are becoming higher for hospitals. The proposed final rule for Meaningful Use Stage 2 shows that patient engagement will factor into the financial incentives.

Exactly how that will play out is uncertain. "But, of course, if providers don't do the things that are specifically addressed in Meaningful Use, like provide visit summaries to the specified percentage of patients, then they will definitely not receive full payment," Berry said.

Survey respondents were asked to choose their two top definitions from among 10 choices. They also could write in their own definition. The top five responses include:

  • Patient uses educational material and online resources to learn about better health or their own health conditions (64.0 percent)
  • Patient uses tools and resources to manage his or her medical record and other health data (58.7 percent)
  • Patient feels comfortable challenging doctor when something doesn't seem right or when explanations are not clear (41.3 percent)
  • Patient feels comfortable discussing health issues and questions with doctor or nurse face-to-face (38.4 percent)
  • Patient communicates with doctor about changes in health status in a timely way (38.4 percent)

For more information:
-read the National eHealth Collaborative survey (.pdf)
-see the National eHealth Collaborative's press release on the survey (.pdf)