Want to improve patient engagement? Start with the basics

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund
09:52 am

Want to jump on the mHealth bandwagon? Start with the basics.

That's the advice of Janie Tremlett, vice president of domestic and international business development for Vecna. And she's not talking about that first phone call between doctor and patient. She's talking about the registration process – that time-honored and laborious process of filling out forms and answering questionnaires before the patient even gets to see a doctor.

If a patient were to fill out all those forms online – either at home or on a tablet or kiosk in the waiting room – the registration process would be quicker, the information would be more accurate, the patient would be happier and office staff time would be used on more important duties, like interacting with the patient.

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Oh, and the electronic medical record would be more accurate and complete.

Tremlett joins a growing number of mHealth advocates who feel healthcare providers are overlooking the obvious entry point. They're going for more complicated projects, she says, instead of starting simple and making that first point of contact between patient and doctor easier.

"These are very simple things to do," she says, "but with this you end up making the patient's life easer and the doctor's life easier … and you build up trust."

And that, she says, is where patient engagement starts.

This isn't, Tremlett says, about "getting the FitBit into the doctor's office." This is about getting all the data needed for a doctor-patient encounter down in electronic form. The data – scheduling appointments, History of Present Illness forms, basic administrative forms, HIPAA permission forms - is entered by the patient, curated by the doctor or his/her staff, and put in to the EMR so that it's there for the doctor to use. Patients who can fill out these forms at home, she says, tend to be less rushed, more relaxed, and more accurate.

"For too long healthcare has followed an assembly line model," she says. "It isn't convenient for anybody. Yet they keep doing it … because some see patient self-service as a threat to their jobs. That's not it. This frees (clinicians) up to do the high-value work they're supposed to be doing."

Tremlett says studies have shown a 30 percent increase in efficiency when the patient registration process as handled electronically by the patient. That has also boosted patient satisfaction scores by as much as 5 percent.

"Some of this stuff isn't super-duper exciting, but it has significant efficiencies," she says.

She also points to a recent Accenture survey in which roughly 83 percent of consumers said they want to self-manage their healthcare. That means scheduling their own appointments online, and filling out all necessary forms ahead of those appointments.

"We have very busy lives," Tremlett says – referring to clinicians as well as consumers. "We're not making our time efficient when we actually do interact."

Once this process is approved, Tremlett concludes, the patient and doctor can spend more time with each other, and have more meaningful conversations around the data already in the EMR. That adds more value to the encounter.

Maybe then, she says, they can talk about the FitBit.

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