In-Depth: A brief history of digital patient engagement tools

By Brian Dolan

The future of personal health records and retail inspiration

GenieMDTo determine the future of personal health records, we need to look to an unlikely source of inspiration -- the retail industry. That's the recommendation of Tory Kelso, VP of Market Strategy and Business Development at GenieMD and former business development manager at HealthVault, who spoke at yesterday's MobiHealthNews webinar on patient engagement.

"The retail industry is a multibillion dollar industry totally reliant on understanding consumer behavior, delivering satisfaction, and building consumer loyalty," Kelso said. "There are a ton of examples in retail of experience and technology combining to lead to a huge number of sales and allow brick and mortar retailers to evolve and stay relevant. We can learn a lot from them in the healthcare sector."

The problem with personal health records of the past, Kelso contends, was not a lack of interest from consumers in their own health -- the popularity of wearable health and activity trackers demonstrates that interest. The problem has been a design process that merely focuses on efficient and secure data storage, rather than asking the right patient-focused questions.

"What is the human experience this technology is aimed at creating?" Kelso asked. "Does this technology allow an individual to feel more informed about their health at home the same way they feel informed when they're face to face with their family doctor? Does this technology help them feel well enough to go run around outside with their children? Does it help them feel secure that an elderly parent, who happens to live in another state, has the assistance they need to age in place in their home? Generally speaking, does it let them feel in control of their healthcare?"

GenieMD online offlineThat's where the lessons from the retail industry come into play. Specifically, Kelso identified three areas where lessons from retail can be applied to healthcare and personal health records. The first is to make sure the online experience is providing the same quality of experience as a face to face physician visit, the same way online shopping provides as much of the same information as a store as possible. Right now, the online healthcare experience is often seen as more supplemental, providing information that's more generic and less personally actionable than the information a patient gets from his or her doctor.

The second lesson is about personalized information, like the personal recommendations you might get on Amazon or personalized coupons that print out as part of your receipt at CVS.

"In retail it's been proven that a personal recommendation will actually make a consumer more loyal than giving them reward points," Kelso said. "Despite the number of channels and options consumers have for shopping, they are still most loyal to brands and businesses that provide a lot of customer service and focus on knowing the individual consumer. ... It's not that consumers think of healthcare as a product they purchase -- I don't think they're at a point where they would say that -- but the advice they choose to listen to is absolutely influenced by whether or not they feel the information that's given to them is about them and for them."

Finally, Kelso suggested that the healthcare experience needs to be conceived of as one continuous journey. It needs to take advantage of all opportunities for continuity between doctor visits and online experiences with the patient portal.

GenieMD Personal Health AssistantKelso said a good PHR will automatically input patient data, aggregate that data, and allow consumers to interact with it, all while monitoring and learning from those interactions. The PHR of the future won't be an "electronic filing cabinet" but a personal health assistant that uses all the data at its disposal to smartly anticipate a patient's health needs.

"Imagine a gentleman who has a tremor in his hand," she said. "He's interested in getting a cortisone shot in order to treat his tremor. He asks his personal health assistant 'What are the side effects of a cortisone shot?' The personal health assistant provides him with an incredibly personal response. It has access to his record and it knows this person is diabetic, has atrial fibrillation and is on Warfarin. So his side effects are very different from the average individual."

Will these tools be provided by a physician, a health plan, or some other stakeholder like a pharmaceutical company? Kelso said she wasn't sure -- it might depend on who manages to convince the patient to trust them with their data.

"We see interest from employers, from large health systems, from physician practices, from pharmacies, from pharmaceutical companies," she said. "There's really a huge interest in leveraging these tools to engage directly with the consumer. I don't think there's a pocket that's more interested than others. I think each group thinks about it a bit differently because of their own business, but everybody's talking about it."

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