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Understanding the Future of Patient Engagement Technologies

Organizations need to tap on-demand, connected, and data-driven patient engagement technologies as they look to the future.

Healthcare is tipping toward more consumer-centered and participatory medicine, and that’s going to push many organizations to embrace on-demand, connected, and data-driven patient engagement technologies, according to a report from Ernst & Young (EY) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) Center for Health Innovation.

“Health care with no address, or bringing care to the consumer or patient rather than expecting the patient to go to the hospital, is a vital sign of the next wave in health care,” researchers said. “The shift toward participatory health is changing the bedrock of the health system from a supply-side push of services out to the consumer, to one in which the pull of consumer demand determines value and activity.”

And in order to be successful, organizations will need to rethink their approach to health IT, embracing a more on-demand style of healthcare that connects patients to their care and leverages patient data to make better medical decisions.

“Participatory health is a simple concept with powerful implications,” the report authors explained. “It is firmly grounded in patient engagement and patient-centered care. The health system of the future will be consumer-centric, wellness-oriented, care everywhere and digitally connected.”

Organizations can deliver on participatory health by giving patients the tools they need to interact with the health system when they want and to manage their own care outside of the doctor’s office. Such tools might include patient portals, virtual care, telehealth, smart home or smart hospital devices, and artificial intelligence (AI) for targeted data analytics.

Ultimately, this should promote prevention care that drives patient wellness.

But that push is easier said than done, especially as organizations continue to keep their doors open in the current healthcare landscape.

Although industry leaders are looking toward an industry defined by value-based care, patient wellness, and care management and prevention, the fact of the matter is most organizations are still reimbursed under fee-for-service.

Large capital investments in brick and mortar facilities make investments in telehealth and remote monitoring cumbersome.

And as the medical industry becomes accustomed to a more consumer-centric approach, some organizations are unable to fully take the leap to participatory healthcare tools.

Organizations need to acknowledge three industry shifts and understand how their current practices fit into those shifts. From there, leadership can determine which steps forward the provider must make to embrace the future of healthcare while still making a difference in today’s world.

Shifting to anywhere care

Patient care is shifting beyond the four walls of the hospital or clinic, and while the idea of care delivered completely remotely is far into the future – of it’s possible at all – organizations and patients alike have begun to embrace it today.

This is most prescient in patients and providers working to access care in the most convenient and low-cost areas that are appropriate for patient needs. This may include the urgent care center or a simple patient portal direct message, depending on the patient’s symptoms.

Three-quarters of large employers are now offering their workers access to telehealth coverage, an increase from 27 percent in 2015, the EY researchers noted. Fifty-four percent and 56 percent of patients and physicians, respectively, expect smartphones to be the main conduit of healthcare within the next decade.

Patients are also warming to visiting low-acuity care centers for appropriate health needs. Sixty percent told EY they would welcome visiting a non-traditional care setting for non-urgent needs. Fifty-four percent said they’d be interested in having common acute symptoms treated online rather than in person.

Organizations can deliver on this by reframing their idea of the consumer experience, prioritizing convenience, and leveraging the patient data that will enable providers to deliver remote care or care in low-cost settings outside of the hospital, the report authors advised.

Transitioning from digital to smart technologies

It will no longer be enough for organizations to have digital health technologies.

“Hospitals of the future are expected to be smart: connected to deliver operational efficiency and clinical excellence in a patient-centric model,” the report authors said. “Smart means that algorithms — analytics, machine learning, and other AI technologies — and robotic process automation tames the wave of user-generated and clinical data. Not only is the infrastructure optimized, but the system is squarely focused on the patient and staff experience.”

AI and machine learning have helped organizations to promote patient safety, operational efficiency, and therefore a better patient experience. These tools make use of patient data to make their treatment better.

These tools can also help promote the anywhere care that underscores the future of healthcare. AI and machine learning algorithms can make sense of the vast amounts of patient data coming in from wearable technologies and other remote patient monitoring devices, the researchers said.

Promoting remote patient care will allow for more aging in place – ultimately cutting costs – as well as help providers detect minor irregularities in chronic illness before they bloom into significant health challenges.

“Smart health systems will leverage AI technologies to smooth end-to-end care experiences for patients, optimize staff experience and achieve operational efficiencies,” the researchers explained. “Such systems will draw upon digital health technologies and consumers’ growing willingness to share personal information, to go beyond sick care to healthfulness – to inspire, encourage and teach individuals to make positive care and lifestyle choices and be engaged in and accountable for lifelong health.”

Managing the social determinants of health

The medical industry has already reached nearly ubiquitous agreement that the social determinants of health (SDOH) have a significant impact on patient wellness. That trend is propelling organizations into the future has they begin to restructure to attend to patients’ social needs.

“We can begin to address SDOH by asking, ‘What’s of high impact in our community? How is SDOH different from social needs?’” said Jay Bhatt, DO, MPH, MPA, the senior vice president and chief medical officer at AHA. “SDOH is upstream driving policy, systems and environmental interventions. Social needs are screening, referring and navigating services. And, by taking what health systems know best — quality improvement as well as building relationships — and applying it systematically to SDOH, we’ve seen health systems and communities partner to reimagine and transform health by tackling even just one intervention, such as hunger.”

To that end, organizations need to leverage deeper patient data that gives insights into a patient’s living and work environment. SDOH and genetics screenings are helping some organizations get in front of the factors beyond clinical symptoms that dictate patient health.

This is going to require more than technology investments. Investing in community health projects such as funding affordable housing or food security programs will help address public health issues that can lead to costlier medical conditions.

Again, all of this is easier said than done, the report authors acknowledged. Organizations need to understand where they are now and where they will be in the future in order to make informed decisions about investment and innovation. Seeing where there is overlap between current and future needs will help organizations make the next step forward, concluded EY global health leader David Roberts.

“Opportunities emerge at the intersection of consumerism, technology and markets for those willing to explore beyond their traditional boundaries,” Roberts said. “To do this, strategic agendas — whether the focus be global, regional or local, will require laying the groundwork that not only supports the business of today, but sets in motion the business of tomorrow. For some, this will mean choosing where to play — either in adjacent markets or in undertaking radical changes and pursuing innovation. For others, this may mean deciding on the right fit — whether to lead, partner or follow in the footsteps of others.”

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