Patient engagement tip: Start with the patient and work backward

By Tom Sullivan
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Despite so many apps and devices available today, and their promise to help consumers better manager their own health, patient engagement is still both art and science.  

"Patient engagement is whatever the patient thinks it is," said Frederick Muench, director of digital health intervention in the Department of Psychiatry at Northwell Health. "If we start at that point, work backward by figuring out the barriers and the fitting technology in, we’re able to overcome those barriers and judge success as outcomes."

That begins with giving patients the opportunity to have control over their care regimen, Muench added.

Achieving that is a collaborative process, according to Robin Austin, clinical assistant professor at University of Minnesota’s School of Nursing. That includes shared decision making involving a multidisciplinary care team of doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, just about everyone a patient encounters.

Don't forget about clinicians, either, because they are just as important to engage as consumers, said Sue Murphy, chief experience and innovation officer at The University of Chicago Medicine.

A major challenge of patient and physician engagement, of course, is that healthcare providers do not have a lot of evidence about what specifically works and what does not, added Nilay Shah, MD, Associate Professor of Health Services Research at the Mayo Clinic.
"These tools can seem simple but it’s a process between patients and clinicians," Shah said.

Chicago Medicine, in fact, focuses on both patient engagement and patient experience. Murphy explained that engagement is about how patients partner with doctors and care teams across the continuum while patient experience is about outcomes, including consumers’ degree of satisfaction with care services.

"The world is switching to be more patient-centric than system-centric," said Susan Wiemeyer, national managing director of Microsoft’s US Health and Life Sciences unit. "But coordination of care is still really difficult in this industry today."

Mayo’s Shah suggested that providers concentrate on user-centered design and make apps minimally disruptive for patients and clinicians. Even once the a hospital identifies which software and devices can work well in patient interventions, the tricky part is actually getting people to use those tools.

"As we think about technology for things like decision support, predictive analytics, keeping us connected, that human connection can be supplemented by technology," Muench said.