Strategies for Health Systems to Engage the IT-Enabled Consumer

Giving patients access to consumer-focused IT tools can create new opportunities for health systems prepared to embrace them. To succeed in deploying such technologies, however, takes a coherent plan in which providers free up their own data, evaluate and support promising tools, and redesign services around these applications.

Womans Hand with PhoneConsumer-facing options such as virtual visits, remote monitoring, and care-coordination platforms are becoming important to patient care, but until recently they’ve been very difficult to integrate with hospital IT or medical practice systems. Now, providers are beginning to embed digital tools into their current care delivery systems.

To support the roll out of such embedded tools, however, health systems will need to get better about sharing health data with patients. IT leaders will need to identify tools, evaluate them for safety and effectiveness, and then support the ones they choose to provide.

In addition, in some cases health systems will want to redesign services around the capabilities of the tools they adopt, a process that will include conducting a thorough pilot testing effort before any new technologies are deployed for consumer use.

Health systems will also need to engage in change-management programs that foster a data-sharing culture within their organization. Over the last several years, the development and widespread implementation of EHRs created data silos that may stand in the way of building out consumer access to their health records.

By this point, most healthcare organizations are aware that there are digital health devices and/or applications from which their patients might benefit. Not only can patients track their blood pressure, pulse, footsteps, and the like with a wearable fitness monitor, but they can get help with managing their eating patterns and weight, and also use apps and devices to stay on top of costly, disabling chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma.

However, it would be wise to have a plan in place before you proceed too far toward supporting such tools, and this can be a complicated game that may call for new technology investments.

After all, as the abstract points out, many of these devices won’t have as much impact on personal medical data. For example, in the case of some medication monitoring apps, your organization will ideally create a dialogue with the app and your EHR, in which the EHR keeps the live medication list populated in the app, and the app feeds back data on how the patient is doing with medication compliance.

To create this kind of exchange, your patient data must be stored in an accessible format, and you must have the permissions in place necessary to share whatever fields are needed. This can be done, but it will take some effort and possibly extra spending on technical support and/or programming.

Another concern to bear in mind is whether you know which tools are likely to be effective with your population. For example, some demographics within your practice will respond well to text-based health reminders, while others might prefer to create their own reminders and set their own goals using an elaborate mobile app built for the purpose. If you are not sure what technologies your patients prefer to work with, you might want to find out more about this before you choose a specific tool.

Meanwhile, if you’re eager to test out digital tools but aren’t feeling prepared, don’t hesitate to hire an outside consultant with domain-specific expertise. Considering how much time you and your patients are likely to spend using these technologies, it will be well worth the money spent.

Published in HealthAffairs, February 26, 2019, and abstracted in Fast Practice.

Topics: Technology

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