Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Beyond the Buzz: The Myths and Realities of Consumer and Patient Engagement | EMR and HIPAA

Peter Edelstein  Medical Director at Elsevier



Today’s healthcare reform world is filled with buzzwords.  “Population Health Management.”  “Value-Based Care.”  “Patient Engagement.”  I am in no way suggesting that these topics do not play critical roles if we are to realize the enormous potential of healthcare reform.  However, if you ask ten people to define any one of these buzzwords, you’ll receive twelve different definitions.  And in a world of threatening reimbursement penalties and expanding healthcare legislation, the sooner that we come to some consensus on the basic meaning of these terms, the sooner we can understand the associated myths and realities.
Relative to the patient population (that is, the general population), the population of providers (doctors, nurses, and other clinicians) represents a fairly homogeneous and small group to target with initial reform efforts.  In addition, we are all painfully aware of the unacceptable number of preventable deaths and complications which occur at the hands of providers each and every day.  Thus reform legislation has first focused on reducing variability, elevating quality, and controlling the cost of care delivery through programs focused on providers (hospitals and healthcare systems, as well as the physicians, nurses, other clinicians who work in such institutions). 
Again, this makes sense as a starting point.  That said, to believe that we will achieve our ultimate goals of evolving into a system dominated by preventative care and outpatient and home health maintenance (leaving hospitals to serve only those whose chronic conditions can no longer be controlled in the outpatient setting) solely by changing how providers deliver care is a myth of epic proportions.  Far-and-away our greatest opportunity to shift our population’s health from reactive, acute, and expensive to proactive, preventative, and cost-efficient is by directly engaging and educating and empowering the general population of patients and future patients themselves. 
This perspective is based on two major realities.  First, studies (as well as our own experience) confirms that even individuals with chronic conditions spend on average only a handful of hours annually in front of a professional care provider.  (How many hours did you or your spouse spend under the direct care of a provider in the previous twelve months?  For the overwhelming majority of you, the answer is less than a couple.)  Second, patients who demonstrate interest in and ownership of their health have better clinical outcomes and reduced costs of care.  In a nutshell, people spend virtually all of their lives away from doctors, nurses, and hospitals, and as with virtually any complex processes, those who are more involved and knowledgeable have better outcomes.
Now we come up against another reality:  limited resources.  Hospitals and healthcare systems have limited staff and finances, and Patient Engagement often draws the short straw when competing with electronic health records, computerized order sets, and other provider-specific support solutions.  But, as I’ve suggested, de-prioritizing Patient Engagement as “less important” or “less impactful” is a myth which greatly limits our potential to increase the value (elevate quality/reduce costs) of healthcare delivery.  Thus, the most important first step for healthcare stakeholders to accept is the reality that assigning resources to Patient Engagement must be as great a priority (if not greater) as allocating staff and money to products and solutions which target only traditional providers.
Once healthcare leaders accept the critical importance of Patient Engagement, they again have to consider their limited resources.  It is another common and perilous myth when trying to allocate resources and develop and implement Patient Engagement strategies to consider all patients within a healthcare system’s catchment area as a homogeneous population.  The reality here is that not all individuals have the same potential for or barriers to becoming engaged patients.  And understanding with which patient subpopulations you can get “the most bang for your buck” is a necessity which is often overlooked. 
Beyond the Buzz: The Myths and Realities of Consumer and Patient Engagement | EMR and HIPAA
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