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Posted on August 13, 2014 by West Corporation 


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With Rise of Remote Healthcare, Are Physicians Equipped for Engaged Patients?

by Scott Zimmerman

Is your healthcare organization ready for a new breed of patient? Individuals who want or need to play a more active part in their health, and who expect their physicians to do the same?

If it’s not, it may be time to start prepping. Think about consumers’ growing interest in smart devices, sensors and mobile apps for tracking fitness levels. IHS Technology has predicted that global market revenue for sports, fitness and activity monitors will rise by 46 percent, to $2.8 billion, from 2013 through 2019.

That trend is accompanied by employers’ trying to lower their own healthcare costs, by having employees take on higher deductibles or paying only fixed amounts for certain tests or procedures. That’s creating a consumer class more conscious of securing the best health services at the best prices. Increasing personal responsibility in this area may well have a spillover effect, motivating people to become better overall managers of their own health. We may see the same result, too, as more businesses offer wellness incentives that give employees rebates for engaging in better health practices.

Also taking on greater healthcare accountability are individuals with chronic conditions, especially those using wireless home health monitoring tools to track and even transmit EKG, sugar levels and other health statistics to their providers’ systems. IHS Technology has studied this area, too, finding that worldwide revenue for telehealth devices and services used for monitoring diseases and conditions will grow to $4.5 billion in 2018, up from $440.6 million in 2013.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

As consumers become more savvy and more engaged participants in their healthcare, they may have increased expectations about how providers will respond to their efforts. As they become better equipped to remotely transmit healthcare data to their doctors, for example, they may naturally assume providers are equally well-equipped to provide feedback on that information in real-time—or at least something close to it.

After all, while it’s nice to have direct feedback from a wireless activity wristband on daily calorie intake, that data may be even more useful if a physician can analyze it in context with other patient data—such as information in the EMR that the individual has Type 2 diabetes and blood glucose levels recorded by a home health monitoring device. The healthcare practitioner may conclude from all these measurements that calorie intake should actually be reduced now that blood glucose control has improved, in order to avoid weight gain. It’s understandable if the patient would like to be informed of that as soon as the conclusion is reached, rather than waiting for the next scheduled appointment.

Just-in-time patient engagement, then, is the direction in which healthcare providers must move. Consider that three in ten U.S. consumers responding to TeleVox’s Healthy World Research Survey said that receiving text messages, voicemails or e-mails that provide patient care between visits would increase feelings of trust in their provider. Of those who have received such communications, 51 percent reported feeling more valued as a patient, and 34 percent reported feeling more certain about visiting that healthcare provider again.

An Eye Toward the Future

Today, tens of thousands of healthcare providers already have started down that road of between-visit engagement, with automated appointment, prescription and treatment notification and reminder systems that use the patient’s medium of choice—e-mail, text or voice. In fact, TeleVox’s survey showed that more than 35 percent of patients who don’t follow exact treatment plans said they would be more likely to adhere to directions if they received reminders from their doctors via these methods. Though the outreach is automated and one-to-many, the systems feel one-to-one, as they are personalized with the patient’s name and other details drawn from providers’ practice management systems.

Ochsner Health System in Louisiana is among healthcare providers who have successfully leveraged this technology. It deployed an automated phone campaign to 3,000-plus patients who had been ordered to have colonoscopies and upper endoscopies, but had not scheduled the exams. The phone messages even offered patients the option to book the appointment by pressing a key while on the line. Of the patients reached, close to 20 percent made the appointment.

This was a win-win for patients and providers. Colon cancer detected and treated early has a nearly 100 percent success rate. These patients told Ochsner that without the automated notification, they never would have completed the test. As for the health system, Ochsner generated more than $600,000 in revenue from conducting the exams.

Today, the industry is just scratching the surface of how it can use communications technology to help healthcare providers better engage with patients between visits. The future holds the promise for more providers to obtain more data from EMRs, sensors, wearable medical devices, and home health monitoring tools; feed this data into patient engagement systems, and use business rules to trigger just-in-time customized patient engagement communications. A worrisome remote ECG reading transmitted from a heart disease patient’s home monitoring device, for example, can drive a follow-up action such as a time-sensitive outbound call to the first available specialist.

While getting to this level might sound a little daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Providers can take on the project in stages, moving from general reminders about preventive tests to follow-up messages aimed at those with chronic conditions, before they tackle real-time or near real-time responses to data submissions generated via remote healthcare devices. For instance, daily text messages could be scheduled to go out to obese patients querying them about whether they have met their daily walking goal. Or, treatment protocol compliance reminders, such as retinal and foot exams for diabetic patients, could be scheduled at regular intervals.

All that said, I suspect most providers are looking to this future less with trepidation than with excitement. They’re in the healthcare business, after all, because they want to help people. Now, the doors are open for them to have more regular and proactive contact with their patients, as well as respond more quickly to potentially dangerous situations.

Originally published on Healthcare Intelligence Network, August 13, 2014


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