At Connected Health Conference, experts address what patient engagement needs to succeed

By Tom Sullivan
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Engaging patients via connected health apps, devices and other technologies to take charge of their own health seems like an obvious progression for the healthcare industry to make. So why isn’t it happening faster?

That was a central question in multiple sessions here at the Connected Health Conference on Monday.

Partners Healthcare vice president of connected health Joseph Kvedar, MD, pointed out that a structure is in place for medications such that a pharmaceutical company creates drugs and doctors prescribe them — but that doesn’t yet exist for connected health apps and devices.

In addition to such a structure, other speakers here said that the healthcare industry needs to change the way it delivers information to patients to involve them in their own care, ramp up accountability and incentives, inflict appropriate penalties and leverage available technologies. 

“One of the reasons people are not engaging is because they’re not expecting information to be delivered in a way they can use,” said Cindy Brach, senior researcher at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. “We need to think about ways to deliver information that will motivate them.”

Bryan Fiekers, senior director of research services at HIMSS Analytics, said that patients and providers need more incentives to take charge of their own health and, in turn, more accountability when they do not.

Penalties like being fined for not wearing a seatbelt or getting a hefty ticket for driving under the influence of alcohol have proven effective, according to William Hall, president of Ipsos Healthcare Japan.

Such penalties for health-related activities need to be considered against barriers like cost, too much effort on the part of patients and doctors not typically recommending apps or devices, he said. Hall also recommended measuring the reasons people currently use health tools, notably to improve health via exercise and weight management.

“We need to be careful,” Hall cautioned. “Are we the high priests of connected health?”

Accenture managing director Ronan Wisdom said that healthcare organizations also need to harness technology to engage and activate patients.

“We have to leverage technologies to enhance interaction without disintermediating clinicians,” Wisdom said. “We have to use digital to expand.”

AHRQ’s Brach said that having providers electronically transmit information back and forth to create care teams is a foundation for connected health that is also important to increasing patient’s health literacy. She added the technology needs to be simple enough for patients to use and understand.

Brach highlighted research in which 60 percent of participants preferred to let doctors make treatment decisions than to be involved themselves. When those people were asked that same question only including the condition that the data was understandable, Brach added, the number willing to leave decisions to doctors went downward to 17 percent.

HIMSS Analytics Fiekers said that the industry has seen technological enhancements in patient portals and telehealth, for examples, that connect caregivers and patients.

Several speakers, however, agreed that technology is not a panacea and won’t solve the patient engagement dilemma entirely.

“Technology is a backbone,” Fiekers added. “There needs to be a personal connection.”