Using the survey as a patient engagement tool

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund

When patients leave a medical appointment with unanswered questions or concerns, they'll look for answers online. Then they'll look for a new doctor.

Healthcare providers are looking to counter this gap in communications with something that's been a staple in the retail and hospitality industries for some time: The survey. And they're using the survey platform as an entry point to patient engagement – not only for measuring patient satisfaction, but to maintain a care coordination program at home.

"Doctors historically have used pamphlets, models and chicken scratch on a piece of paper" to communicate with patients during and after the visit, says Matt Berry, founder and CEO of Orca Health. "Now we've been able to digitize that, bring it into the 21st Century. It really does make a difference."

Orca Health, a Salt Lake City-based developer of online tools for post-point-of-care communications, is one of a growing number of mHealth companies pushing app-based patient surveys into the healthcare space and expanding on the simple "rate your encounter" query. And they're seeing traction. Whereas a typical e-mail or snail-mail survey might be returned by 6 percent to 12 percent of the patient population, according to national statistics, apps and online portals that promote ongoing conversations between patient and care provider garner engagement rates of 60 percent and higher.

Orca tapped into this trend recently with a three-pronged program. There's an app that focuses solely on patient satisfaction, one that contains the provider's post-point-of-care treatment plan (which begins with the actual visit with the doctor), and one (now in beta) that targets patient-reported outcomes, offering time-sensitive educational and treatment information that enables the patient to "check in" and the care provider to keep tabs on the patient's ongoing care plan.

"You need to make the process interactive," says Berry, "and package the care plan in a way that it works like a conversation with their provider. It's all about the patient experience."

Orca Health isn't the first to offer patient surveys – providers like New York's Mt. Sinai Health System have been turning to them to boost their HCAHPS scores and boost community goodwill – but their app platform is indicative of the value of an mHealth strategy. Static surveys that simply ask questions don't get answered; surveys that ask patient-specific questions, offer advice and require both patient and provider to continue the conversation pique the patient's interest. And what better way of continuing that conversation than on a smartphone, tablet or laptop?

"People really want to know this information," says Berry.

Healthcare providers are often caught between not giving the patient enough attention and being too forceful, a tactic that could push the patient away and negate the care plan. To that end, a hospital or practice might send out a survey at the conclusion of a patient encounter, so that the patient can fill it out when he/she gets home. The tricky part is following that up – is two days or one week too early for another message, or too late?

That's where an mHealth platform that emphasizes individual care comes into play. Different treatments require different follow-up plans, and a platform that tailors its patient engagement strategy to each patient will help a clinician know when to post that next message, or expect a response from a patient.

Another trend gaining traction is 3D – as anyone who saw Apple's recent iPad Pro announcement can testify. Berry says the use of 3D visualizations in a care plan can illustrate a healthcare concern better than any Wikipedia entry, drawing or model. And they can be interactive, allowing the provider to modify the image to point out specific features or answer a patient's questions.

"You can create better discussions around that 3D content," he says. "It's a huge differentiator."

The key is getting the patient interested enough to reply to that first survey, and then to keep the conversation going. In the long run, it's much better than looking something up online.