4 strategies for engaging patients using digital technology

Though many patients want to use personal health records and mobile apps to help manage their care, physicians can be reluctant to accept digital data from patients due to liability concerns.

Seeking to relieve some of the physicians' fears, Project HealthDesign, a research program funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, had teams test the incorporation of patient-generated, digital information into clinical care, a study published in the Journal of Participatory Medicine reported.

The research teams noted physicians' liability concerns, and wrote down the steps they took to manage them. Concerns included timeliness and adequacy of response, who should respond, volume of data and accuracy. In the study, five research teams created personal health apps to help the patients keep track of observations of daily living (ODLs).

"The theory is that clinicians who can rely on standard clinical measurements like hemoglobin A1C as well as information on medication adherence, sleep, diet, and exercise will be more able to guide patients in managing their chronic illnesses and achieving improved health outcomes," the authors wrote.

The study offered the following key tips for physicians to engage with patients using technology:

  • Work with patients to achieve a common understanding of the types of information patients would be sharing, how the sharing would take place and which members of the clinical team would be reviewing the information and how often.
  • Designate and train a member of the clinical care team to monitor incoming data and triage as necessary. 
  • Put a medical emergency protocol in place.
  • Use appropriate judgment in deciding when patient-generated electronic health information would be included in the physician's legal medical record.

"The approach they took to managing these concerns could be helpful to providers seeking to engage patients in their care using technology," the study found. "These and similar approaches can enable physicians to use electronic patient-generated health information to deliver more patient-centered and, potentially, more effective and cost-efficient care."

As reported this summer, technology that can engage patients so they can contribute to their own care will be crucial to the success of new payment models such as accountable care organizations, representatives from several healthcare organizations said during a panel discussion at the fourth annual Health Datapalooza conference in Washington, D.C. In particular, panelists focused on how technology must be able to leverage data to prompt more preventive behavior and to spur discussions between providers and patients.

"We need to get out of this notion of not telling people about the mistakes that they've made, and instead tell them how they can avoid those mistakes in the future," Ron Ozminkowski, senior vice president and chief scientific officer at OptumHealth Care Solutions, said. "The notion of savings and incentives for doing things the right way will blunt fee-for-service. If we can do this in a way that [uses data] to focus on better care [and] better costs, we'll get better results."

To learn more:
- read the study

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