Health IT not a cure-all for improving patient engagement

By Mark Terry

As the expression goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. To that end, although you can get patients to sample an eHealth solution, getting them to continue its use and to use it in a meaningful way is a more significant challenge, according to one practitioner.

Amy Bucher, a psychologist who regularly contributes to Wired's InnovationInsights blog, recently wrote about the psychological principles that apply to getting patients to utilize mobile health apps. They include:

  • Autonomy or free choice
  • Competence, or mastery and growth
  • Relatedness, or social connection

Bucher pointed out, however, that despite these all being embedded in most eHealth applications, users often don't engage. Too much variety and lack of professional guidance were among two of the more likely reasons, she said.

"In user experience testing I've conducted, I've repeatedly heard that people particularly want expert recommendations on what actions to take when they need to make health improvements," Bucher said.

Counterintuively, she also suggested that it's possible to make an eHealth solution too easy to use.

"Health can be complicated, and over time, you may need to change your approach to continue getting results," Bucher said. "This means that any one eHealth solution needs to balance simplicity and nuance if it hopes to provide value to a user over the duration of a health journey."

Last fall, the National eHealth Collaborative partnered with HealthCAWS and surveyed organizations on eHealth and found that 96 percent of survey respondents strongly agreed that engaging patients in their own care was critical to healthcare transformation.

As accountable care organizations ramp up, population health will become more of a priority, dependent on the metrics to evaluate those populations. E-health is a significant component of that, but in order to acquire those metrics, healthcare providers will need patients who are engaged, Texas Health Resources CIO Edward Marx told FierceHealthIT in an interview in February.

"We know that the more we engage patients, the better success we have with our ACO," Marx said.

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