Physicians: E-Engagement Can Boost Quality Ratings from Patients

flickr: Steve Snodgrass

When my mom, who has dementia, broke her hip and required surgery, I was allowed into the surgical prep area. The nurse even gave me a marker and invited me to write on my mom’s leg as a safety step to make sure they operated on the correct one.

It felt odd at first, but that one invitation–to mark the leg for surgery–gave me greater confidence in the hospital and staff. They engaged me, as a family member, as a partner in my mom’s safety, and it made a difference to my perception of the quality of care my mom would experience at their facility.

Engagement of family members and patients doesn’t have to be such an overt physical act, such as marking a leg. Engagement could be an invitation to read information about post-surgical expectations, watch a video demonstration or talk with the surgeon before the procedure, or hear from former patients who’ve had the procedure. And many of these invitations to engage can take place online.

Online tools such as social media, cloud-based software, patient portals and even email can make patient and family engagement cost effective, timely and more convenient for both physicians and patients.

I’ve been advocating patient electronic engagement (e-engagement) for several years now and have, at times, met resistance mostly because of scarcity of resources and the lack of quantifiable outcomes–both valid concerns. However, now there are three compelling reasons why your facility needs to get serious about e-engagement:

Increased patient engagement increases perception of quality

In the Guide to Patient and Family Engagement: Environmental Scan Report prepared for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, it noted that patients believed themselves to be better at assessing the quality of their care than “experts.” It also noted that although physicians tend to assess quality based on the clinical side of care, patients focused on engagement with the provider.

The report states, “Patients’ and family members’ perceptions of quality are also influenced to a large degree by their perceptions of a given provider. Providers who are perceived to be responsive, empathetic, and attuned to patients’ needs are judged by patients as being of higher quality than providers who are perceived to be less responsive and empathetic, even if the clinical care delivered is the same.”

Physicians don’t need online tools to be responsive, but with scarce resources and limited time, online tools can expand engagement opportunities with patients that would otherwise not be possible. These tools can help physicians be more responsive and, by doing so, boost patient satisfaction.

E-Engagement gets real results

In a Kaiser study, coordinated care using computer-supported care registries reduced overall mortality by 76 percent and cardiac mortality by 73 percent.

Dave Chase, in his recent Forbes article, Patient Engagement is the Blockbuster Drug of the Century, credits Leonard Kish with the insight. Chase added that trust is a key component in, what he calls, Triple Aim organizations–those that lower cost, improve the patient experience and improve outcomes.

Chase wrote, “As in any relationship, trust is built on a firm foundation of communication.” I would argue that opportunities for communication can be dramatically increased when physicians and organizations adopt online tools, as was done in the Kaiser study.

Meaningful use requires patient engagement

Under the Electronic Health Record Incentive Program, stage 2 meaningful use requires patient engagement by 2013 or 2014 (depending on the date of participation). Brian Ahier does a nice job dissecting the new rules and reports that eligible hospitals will be required to offer 80% of their patients a web-based portal within 36 hours of discharge that is “human readable” and HIPAA compliant.

Given the evidence of effectiveness in both the perception of quality, as indicated in the Guide to Patient and Family Engagement: Environmental Scan Report, and quantifiable results in terms of outcomes, as reported in the Kaiser study, the argument for e-engagement is strengthening.

These reasons, coupled with the coming regulations as part of the EHR incentive program, make a strong case for e-engagement–a case that even skeptics can no longer ignore.

How we help

Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

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