Physicians form the crux of patient engagement

Physicians form the crux of patient engagement

By Dodge Communications on June 27th, 2013

It’s no secret that patients are generally not engaged in the care delivery process. But whose fault is that? It must be the patients themselves, right? They’ve always taken a passive role in their medical care and demonstrate lackluster interest in using tools, such as patient portals, to review their medical histories or access lab results. Perhaps technology vendors are to blame for failing to deliver solutions with a workable interface and content that is compelling enough to drive patient traffic. Or maybe it’s the physician, who hasn’t adequately encouraged patients to become more informed healthcare consumers.

Pointing the finger at one entity or another is a practice in futility. Truth be told, all participants must contribute to the patient engagement process. But physicians have too much to lose if it doesn’t become a reality, courtesy of initiatives such as Meaningful Use. Stage 2 rules that go into effect in 2014 require physicians to attest that they provide 50 percent of their patients with online access to their health information, such as recent lab results or a continuity of care document (CCD), if they are to receive financial incentives.

As EMRs and patient portal technologies mature and become more tightly integrated, physicians shouldn’t be overly concerned that they will not meet this threshold. What should have them worried, however, are other provisions designed to encourage—or rather, demand— electronic patient engagement. Rules require more than 5 percent of a covered entity’s unique patients (or their authorized representatives) view, download or transmit their health information to a third party during the physician reporting period. And more than 5 percent of these individuals must exchange secure messages with their practitioner, which could prove especially problematic for providers serving a high percentage of elderly or low-income individuals who don’t have access to enabling tools.

Many experts believe that industry forces, including value-based medicine and accountable care, are now aligning to help drive patient engagement (electronic or otherwise). It is what the Society for Participatory Medicine defines as “a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health, and in which providers welcome and value them as full partners.”

Dave deBronkart, a former co-chair of the society, blogger and self-described “e-patient” (one who is empowered, engaged, equipped and enabled) recently published a patient engagement handbook titled “Let Patients Help!,” which provides tips on how physicians can better engage their patients. It begins by attempting to debunk the long held belief that “our culture assumes doctors know everything and patients can’t possibly add anything useful.”

“Let Patients Help” explains how patients are an underutilized resource for physicians, as seen in their growing propensity to use the Internet for medical information. Even as far back as the 1970s, visionaries such as Dr. Warner Slack, a senior physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, believed that patients were underutilized IT resources, surmising that they could help populate their own electronic medical records, an idea that is likely still a ways off. However, the booklet does provide practical strategies for providing more data to patients … information they can use to help make treatment decisions.

Increasingly sophisticated yet user-friendly personal health records and Web portals will help individuals become more engaged in their care, which will go a long way to driving value in the healthcare industry through lower costs and higher quality. But it’s really up to physicians to promote the benefits not only to patients, but the entire medical team, who stand to reap a host of efficiency benefits when patients are electronically engaged.