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Health IT Pulse

Mar 19 2012   12:34PM GMT

Technology alone won’t improve patient engagement

Posted by: Beastwood
consumer health IT, patient engagement, smartphones

Patient engagement ranks among the myriad challenges of health IT implementation. In part, it’s because it’s a two-way street — patients need access to their data, as National Coordinator Farzad Mostashari, M.D., said last week, and, to complete the picture of health, physicians need access to patient data coming from medical devices, exercise tracking software and other sources.

Success rides on whether patients will buy in to the notion that using technology can improve the care experience and, by extension, their health. So far, they haven’t been.

Research from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions shows that patients are still twice as likely to use the Internet for online banking than for health tasks as simple as researching treatment options. Patient engagement through personal health record services remains difficult, too — only one patient in nine is interested in using PHR services, let alone actually doing it.

For their part, physicians aren’t setting a good example. A similar Deloitte survey shows that 46% of physicians do not use Internet tools to enhance patient care, and only one in five provide patients with the ability to view lab results or schedule appointments online.

Jack M. Chapman Jr., M.D., of Gainesville (Ga.) Eye Associates, shared this information during a discussion on improving physician-patient engagement during last week’s Georgia eHealth Summit.

To be fair, it’s wasn’t all doom and gloom. Three in five patients, regardless of age, said they’d be interested in using a wireless medical device to send information to their physician, and younger patients expressed interest in using their smartphones for that purpose. “That is a good trend,” Chapman said.

Chapman, an electronic health record (EHR) user since 1998, ranks among those who see the iPad as having a transformative effect on the patient care experience, noting that today’s medical students are using iPads instead of textbooks.

However, the tablet alone cannot solve the patient engagement dilemma. Here, again, it’s a two-way street — patients must be willing to share sensitive information with their physicians, and physicians must be willing to cede control over patient data. Technology can certainly play a vital role in the process, by making it easy for both parties to get the information they need, but true patient engagement will require a willingness to actually put that information to use.

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