Patient engagement technology can lessen health disparities

New forms of patient communication can connect them to resources, deal with barriers to care delivery and ensure clinicians know when intervention is needed.

Automated patient communication and remote monitoring offer the potential to increase interactions and stay on top of potential medical problems.

Addressing healthcare inequities is no simple task. The causes are complex, from environmental to socioeconomic factors, and it’s challenging for provider organizations to address them. However, opportunities exist to bridge gaps in healthcare by leveraging patient engagement technology.

Remote patient monitoring – staying connected with patients outside of traditional medical settings – has the potential to deliver several important benefits for disadvantaged communities. 

Connecting patients with resources 

Many poor and disadvantaged people do not always know when or how to seek care, which can lead to uncontrolled chronic conditions, unnecessary visits to the emergency department, poor outcomes or worse. SMS text-based communication is widely accessible for almost all communities and is a very effective way to reach people and build trust with a healthcare provider. 

By automating a series of messages that combine different content, including videos and easy to understand handouts, healthcare can become more holistic and less episodic, which can foster trust and ensure patients feel supported. Consistent communication ensures that patients have accurate, useful information and helps them stay engaged in their healthcare.

Better comprehension of barriers 

Remote patient monitoring is also an effective way to collect valuable information to better understand what patients may need. By prompting patients to report how they’re doing periodically, a healthcare provider can learn about a potential issue before it causes serious deterioration. 

If patients don’t understand how to correctly take medication or manage a chronic condition like diabetes, the likelihood of the condition worsening goes up. If a patient is facing a more practical problem like food insecurity or transportation issues, healthcare providers can proactively intervene to provide support and connect the patient with helpful resources.

Improving health literacy

Automated digital patient communication between medical visits is also a great way to keep patients engaged with their health and provide step-by-step guidance to help them adhere to their medical plan of care. If a patient is living with a chronic condition, for instance, they can be prompted to report their blood pressure or glucose level, and then receive automated guidance related to the data they’ve provided.

These systems can deliver encouragement when the condition is well managed, or conversely can offer coaching and support if there is room for improvement. The more patients understand why something like blood pressure matters for their long-term health goals, the more motivated they will be to make healthy choices. 

The benefits of remote monitoring

Technology, by itself, can’t eliminate healthcare disparities, but it can be used to create better connections between disadvantaged communities and healthcare providers. Meeting patients where they are can lower barriers like childcare, transportation, inflexible work hours, and more. 

A great example is a program implemented at ChristianaCare that is improving early detection of postpartum hypertension by overcoming low attendance for follow-up office visits. The organization deployed a remote patient monitoring platform to engage new mothers after discharge. These recent moms are prompted to report their blood pressure and answer a few questions; if they supply entries outside the normal range, intervention by the care team is triggered.

This simple approach has built trust with patients and helped the care team better understand their patients’ potential barriers – all without the new mother needing to leave her home. The program has successfully reduced postpartum hypertension-related readmissions and eliminated longstanding racial disparities in care provided after a baby’s birth.

While only 30 percent of patients attended in-person postpartum office visits, the remote monitoring program drove 91 percent of new mothers to submit at least one blood pressure reading (representing a 203 percent increase in hypertension screening) and decreased 30-day readmissions by 55 percent.

Health Catalyst Editors is a team of senior editors and writers at Health Catalyst offering experience and broad knowledge of the industry.

This blog, written by Health Catalyst, previously appeared here.

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