doctor showing a patient her patient portal

First Look – Does a Silver Bullet for Patient Engagement Solutions Exist?

The Problem: Who’s on First?

Providers are being deluged by vendors with patient engagement solutions. A quick Google search on patient engagement products returns over 62 million results. The challenge for providers is determining which patient engagement solutions will allow them to create stronger provider brand loyalty when they are competing with other provider networks in their market. I like to evaluate patient engagement relative to what I experience and like from my providers.

Almost all my providers send text and email reminders of upcoming visits that have been scheduled. But only one, an orthopedic surgeon, uses a patient engagement application that also sends previsit/preparatory information, measures patient satisfaction with the visit, and then follows-up over several communication methods to measure the patient’s progress with desired outcomes. But providers may desire to optimize their business processes for patient services with referral management, prior authorizations, bill payments, and analytics from these solutions. Which approach should the business focus on: patient facing or business process?

For patient engagement solutions to be optimally effective, they must integrate with the patient access (e.g., registration, scheduling, and authorization/billing) and EHR environments. This poses an additional challenge: how do we effectively integrate the workflows and data from patient engagement applications into the enterprise IT environments?

Lastly, provider organizations need to create a strategy for implementing patient engagement solutions that drive more efficient and better care quality for the services they deliver. What approach is best for the organization: incremental, focused application implementations or a big bang implementation of a more complete patient engagement suite?

The Solution: Third Base!

Each provider organization will need to evaluate their patient engagement needs and strategies to acquire and implement an effective patient engagement solution. Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS)[1] and the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Outpatient and Ambulatory Surgery Survey (OAS CAHPS)[2] are good programs to help evaluate solutions.

As the market moves toward higher levels of value-based care, patient engagement solutions that drive higher HCAHPS and OAS CAHPS scores will be better investments. But one thing is clear: provider organizations need to be focused on using patient engagement solutions that provide patient assistance and guidance through all phases of care and that are easily accessible from any device a patient is comfortable using.

I don’t mean to imply that provider organizations should ignore the back-office or non-patient-facing applications that also directly impact patient services. Scheduling, registration, prior-authorization, and referral-management applications can also improve the patient experience by eliminating service delays.

A clear differentiator will be the interoperability capabilities of these solutions with the existing enterprise RCM and EHR environments. The ability to support care delivery by enhancing and simplifying enterprise workflows to create less overhead for the business and clinical staff should be a key objective.  

The Justification: Pay Now or Pay Later

Value-based care reimbursement will require care-quality and patient-satisfaction metrics to determine provider payments. Though the federal government has focused on these types of reimbursement models, commercial payers usually adopt similar payment models over time. The current healthcare economic (as a percentage of GDP) and political environments strongly suggest that healthcare reimbursement will be driven toward Medicare fee schedules in the near term as citizens revolt against the high cost of US healthcare. Provider organizations that prepare for this eventuality by making their services more intuitive and effective for patients will be better prepared for the upcoming reimbursement transition.

The Players: Casts of Thousands

The best place for accessing unbiased and objective information on patient engagement vendors is KLAS’ website[3]. As stated earlier, there are thousands of vendors promoting patient engagement solutions with varying capabilities, from focused applications to full-blown suites. Beware of large vendors not specifically focused on healthcare or large vendor partnerships relative to long-term viability; in this market, big doesn’t necessarily equate to successful.

Success Factors

  1. Select patient engagement vendors with a successful track record for effective implementations and proven interoperability.
  2. Patient-facing applications should be based on an intuitive design to support ease of use and should be device agnostic (Android, Apple, mobile, laptop, and so on).
  3. Validate that patient engagement applications supplement the workflows of enterprise applications to improve usability and operational efficiency.

Summary

There are no silver-bullet applications in the wild west of patient engagement. No one has conquered the market. Provider organizations will need to conduct significant due diligence with any patient engagement solutions to determine a best fit for the organization’s enterprise IT environment and the healthcare delivery strategy as the market transitions to new reimbursement models. For some organizations, the risk of patient engagement solutions can be mitigated by implementing the solutions in smaller controlled environments where patient satisfaction metrics need improvement. Once proven and stable, the solutions can be extended to other patient care services. Organizations that desire to implement a full suite of patient engagement applications will be more successful using solutions that have been proven in other organizations of the same size and with the same enterprise-application profile. No matter what approach is used, organizations should be cognizant that the market for patient engagement solutions will be viable for many years.