Patient engagement has been a quandary for most provider organizations. Not so for NorthShore University HealthSystem.

More than a quarter of a million patients of Evanston-Ill.-based integrated delivery system have used NorthShoreConnect, the health system’s portal and app.

Those results haven’t come without effort. NorthShore takes health IT and patient engagement quite seriously, says Douglas Silverstein, president of NorthShore’s Evanston Hospital, and co-chair of the health system’s digital health initiative.

"NorthShore tends to be very proactive and ahead of the curve; it’s built into our DNA," he says. "We are always asking how we can keep moving things along, how we can keep pushing the envelope toward better patient care, using technology whenever we can."

NorthShore executives say that, in total, about 325,000 patients have used the Epic-based MyChart system, and from 85,000 to 100,000 patients access it each month. About 30,000 currently use NorthShore’s mobile app, a branded version of which was made available to the general public in late January.

“It’s all about giving patients a better experience,” Silverstein says. “It’s hard to navigate healthcare, so we want to make it more convenient for them. It’s good for the patient, and it enhances quality.” The health system is taking its cues from other industries, such as the airlines, that make it easier for consumers to access services via mobile apps.

Silverstein says NorthShore has worked hard at adding additional features to the portal. Patients can make appointments on the portal for nearly 80 percent of all services the health system offers.

NorthShore’s health IT strategy, including the portal, is aimed at helping doctors improve care, Silverstein explains. For example, the system is using data analytics to help doctors keep track of patients with chronic conditions who may need extra attention.

Patients can use NorthShoreConnect to make doctor’s appointments, review their medical records, check test results and email questions to their physicians. In addition, the system can text reminders about appointments, and it can wait-list patients for sooner appointments and alert them if earlier appointments become available. The portal also reminds patients to get routine health screenings.

Doctors and patients who use the portal say they like the convenience of being able to communicate without playing phone tag.

"I think it’s fabulous," says Peggy Salamon, MD, an OB-Gyn at NorthShore. "It’s a great way to connect with patients. It’s quick and easy.” Salamon says her patients, whether they be 20 or 80 years old, are happy with it.

One of NorthShore’s patients, John Plotner, is a senior citizen who has several chronic and serious health conditions, and he was eager to use the portal. "I always have been an information gatherer,” he says. “It’s reassuring and satisfying to have the information.

"My wife and I are strong believers you have to advocate for your own healthcare," Plotner says. "And you can’t do that if you don't know what’s going on."

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