HIMSS Policy Summit: Patient variation makes engagement difficult, panelists say

While engagement of patients in their own care is vital to improving the health industry, achieving success is a difficult task, panelists said Wednesday at the HIMSS Policy Summit in the District of Columbia.

Brian Jacobs (pictured), vice president, CIO and chief medical information officer at the D.C.-based Children's National Health System, talked about the challenges associated with engaging his patient population, despite several efforts geared toward just that cause. For instance, he said, Children's has a patient portal, internally develops apps to aid patients in navigating both the hospital and their road to care, and wearables. Regarding the portal, however, he said that there's only been a 15 percent uptake rate.

"I don't think there's an argument about the importance of patient engagement," Jacobs said. "But we would be remiss if we didn't discuss some of the variables."

Those variables include patient populations who may have difficulty using such tools, such as preverbal children and the mentally ill.

"These are real ... patients in our population who, when we try to engage them, we struggle," Jacobs said. "I think there are some unique situations--and they represent up to 50 percent of the patients we care for--to try to keep them healthy and try to keep them out of the hospital [where] engagement is work. It's going to be challenging, it's going to be a paradigm shift. It's going to have to be something we learn to do better as we move forward."

Von Nguyen, a senior advisor with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Innovation Center, agreed, noting that the variation in patient personalities also adds to such challenges.

"There's a certain kind of patient that really responds to [technology]," Nguyen said. "But there are other patients where you could put the fanciest computer ... up there and you will get nothing. ... This process of patient engagement will be different depending on the patient population. Really being able to identify what is truly important to the patient and subsequently being able to provide those services in a meaningful way will be critical to hit the mark of patient engagement."

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