Organizations weigh how best to implement cohesive engagement

Challenges abound in knowing whether to use individual applications or an integrated approach

Many healthcare organizations are taking steps to implement new strategies and technologies that are more patient centric. However, these organizations face a dilemma – they are trying to create a patient engagement tool set that has a large number of capabilities but uses the minimum number of disparate systems.

Both patients and providers want a patient engagement experience that involves fewer tools. One KLAS Research whitepaper found that “patients hope to see development toward a consolidated, one-stop [patient] portal in which they can access results, pay bills, schedule appointments, contribute to the chart and send secure messages.”

Another KLAS report asserts that “provider organizations are consistently looking for ways to reduce their technology footprint. Consolidating vendors gives organizations a greater ability to go to one place for service and support, feature requests and so forth. Having an integrated solution with fewer break points is also a positive.”

The Dream of a One-Stop Shop

Providers’ preferences are reflected in how they responded to the question, “How important is a one-stop Shop for patient engagement?” Some 79 percent of respondents said consolidated capabilities are “extremely important” or “very important.”

The report found that most organizations’ strategies involve leveraging capabilities in their electronic medical records systems to the greatest extent possible. However, the data also showed that non-EMR vendors that were focused on fewer capabilities generally provided a better customer experience. In addition, certain niche capabilities have not yet been offered or perfected by EMR vendors, the research noted.

These challenges are why it is difficult for health systems to implement a patient engagement tool set that has optimal functionality while remaining technologically cohesive. In considering possible strategies, healthcare organizations typically face a series of factors in making a decision. These include:

  • Choosing among applications that are available for patient engagement.
  • Accommodating the needs of each of the stakeholders – including provider organizations, clinicians, patients and patients’ families or caregivers – with selected patient engagement tools.
  • How prospective tools fit into the organization’s current strategy and architecture.

Evolving Capabilities of Tools

Digital tools that can support patient engagement have significantly advanced in the last several years. Examples of new or quickly progressing capabilities include:

  • Chatbots
  • Conversational AI
  • Digital rounding
  • Provider/Care Team Visibility
  • SDOH Informatics
  • Text to Pay
  • Triaging/Symptom Checking
  • Wayfinding

Many healthcare IT vendors are also enhancing older technologies to better serve patients and provider organizations. For instance, some interactive patient systems now include IPTV and coax networks for in-room TV, as well as Pro:Idiom encryption support. Healthcare leaders should become familiar with and analyze all of their technological options, according to industry watchers.

In an interview with HDM, Mike Brandofino, president and COO of telehealth vendor Caregility, also warned healthcare leaders and technologists to keep sight of technology’s purpose when considering shiny new applications. “I think that, too often, folks focus on ‘what our technology does’ — the bits and the bytes. I would encourage health systems not to deploy technology for technology’s sake, but to understand from the clinical perspective how the technology is impacting both the patient and the caregiver.”

What Does Each Stakeholder Need?

Industry experts insist that every person or organization that interacts with a patient engagement suite has distinct needs and should be included in a patient engagement strategy. “We don’t just tell our patients, ‘Here’s our platform,’ “ Brandafino noted.  “We ask them, ‘What’s your experience now? What would you like it to be? Let’s look at the gaps.’ Sometimes, those gaps are about the health system’s processes and not the technology. I’d like to see more health systems listen to the patients about what is important to them and then do some analysis.”

A tool set that does not offer ways to collaborate with family members or caregivers may neglect a critical piece of the patient engagement puzzle. According to a 2020 report by Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 21.3 percent of Americans had provided care to someone with special needs in the previous year, and 26 percent of those caregivers reported having difficulty coordinating the care of the person in their charge.

Patient engagement tools also should serve provider organizations and the clinicians who work for them, and Brandafino asserts that not all providers are created equal.

“We are talking to individual healthcare providers and trying to understand what video quality suits them. For example, a telestroke doctor needs a high-quality image, but doesn’t care as much about the audio. A telestroke doctor might not need the same things as a psychiatrist or an ICU doctor,” he said.

How Tools Can Fit Together

Learning about niche capabilities and cutting-edge technology may tempt provider organizations’ technology leaders to create a smorgasbord of tools from a variety of vendors. But that may not be a helpful approach, according to some providers. A 2021 KLAS report included advice from healthcare leaders to their peers about implementing patient engagement tools.

“I would tell others to be very thoughtful and architect their digital front door so that they don’t get dragged around by the various players in the market,” said one CIO quoted in the KLAS research. “That is why we end up with so many pilot solutions that are not architecturally aligned. People need to focus on the architecture and the platforms. People need to work within the foundation that is already there with the EMR. Epic, Cerner, Allscripts and other vendors are all talking about the digital front door, but they are still EMR vendors and can’t do everything. People should partner with one or two players to create a digital front door strategy that starts with architecture.”

The Importance of Planning

The quest to provide a digital framework for patient engagement may continue to befuddle healthcare leaders. However, experts conclude that thorough planning can increase the odds of success. One article based on an interview with Mutaz Shegewi, IDC Health Insights research director, summarized some best practices for the process:

“‘There needs to be an initiative to first, map and outline of all the existing digital touchpoints in the [patient engagement] service and to identify any gaps,’” Shegewi recommended. … “It is essential to consider that map the organization built with its stakeholders and see if the vendor can actually help the organization navigate. Those making the technology purchases should question the organizational vision, the capabilities being offered, how those tools can link with others the provider already has, and which tools are actually feasible—especially financially—for integration.”

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