The Sweet Combination of Patient and Clinician Engagement - Cover

The Sweet Combination of Patient and Clinician Engagement

At KLAS’ 2016 Keystone Summit, attendees identified patient engagement and clinician engagement as the final two pillars of population health IT. While pillars are an apt analogy, I also like to think of the two areas as two sides of the same Oreo cookie. Patient engagement and clinician engagement may be different, but they must be taken together to ensure success. 

Sadly, significant barriers in both of these areas intimidate everyone involved. Scaling these barriers won’t be easy. But if we don’t, our goal of improving the population’s health will never come to fruition.

Patient Engagement

There are already efforts underway to get and keep in touch with patients. One of these is the patient portal, a great idea that, unfortunately, most patients don’t really use. Even I, who live and breathe healthcare at work every day, can’t be bothered to log on to my patient portal unless it’s to pay a bill or complete a task that will earn me money for my HSA account.

What about a more direct approach? There are certainly a few of them. Emails? A few patients from the younger generation might at least look at an email, but technology-averse Baby Boomers and patients in low-income households probably won’t be able to. Phone calls? Good luck getting anybody younger than 50 to answer a phone call from a number they don’t know. Text messages? Again, there’s a shot with the Millennials, but their parents and grandparents may not know what to do with a text.

Clearly, it’s impossible to please every age group with one or even two methods of patient communication. Provider organizations have every right to be frustrated. That’s one reason I’m excited for the Patient Engagement Summit that KLAS will hold later in 2018. I’m confident that the best minds in the industry will be able to come up with a standard framework for the market and brainstorm innovative ways to reach patients.

Clinician Engagement

I bet I’d win the Biggest Understatement of the Year award by saying that providers are busy people. Articles about physician burnout litter the internet, and increasing duties both on and off the computer have clinicians feeling overloaded. How can physicians provide the high-quality care they want to provide?

One answer is that clinicians need to be able to see gaps in their patients’ care. But often, technology works against the clinicians instead of with them. If a clinician has to log in and out of five different systems and search each one for information about care gaps, what are the odds of him or her doing so? Not great. Realistically, few clinicians will consistently address gaps in care until those gaps are in a single system, easily visible, and within the clinician workflow. And—let’s be honest—a financial incentive wouldn’t hurt.

This ideal state can be reached, but only if vendors and providers each do their part. Vendors must provide broader and deeper integration—within their own platforms and with other vendors’ tools—so that patient data can easily flow from patient portals and other departments’ systems into the EMR workflow. Providers may assume that they are helpless in the quest for effective software, but KLAS’ research in the Arch Collaborative has proved otherwise. By sharing accountability with vendors and taking specific steps in their organizations, providers really can make their EMRs and other solutions work for them and, ultimately, the patients.

What About the Cream?

Those of you still thinking about the Oreo I brought up earlier are probably thinking, “A cute analogy, but the two sides of an Oreo don’t hold themselves together—they need cream.” Right you are. That’s why I would submit that the cream in an Oreo could represent a third component of success: motivation. After all, unmotivated patients are unlikely to make many efforts to take care of themselves, and burned-out providers may not have as much to give to the cause of population health.

This truth may tempt providers to throw up the white flag. “Why should we waste resources on reaching out to patients and improving our clinicians’ tools if patients aren’t interested in their own health?” Because the easier it is for patients to get involved in their healthcare, the more motivated they are likely to be. Even small improvements can start a positive cycle. As vendors and providers perfect their tools and processes, more patients will respond. This, in turn, will motivate providers and help them lead patients to success. I look forward to watching these delicious dreams of population health become reality.