Thursday, 21 February 2013

Digital Health - The Cost of Neglecting Patient Engagement

The new paradigm in communications has once again recognized the humanity, or more importantly the individuality, of the consumer and seeks to understand how to engage with these individuals.

The challenge has shifted away from the question of "how do we get the consumer to act?" towards a far more relevant question to the health industry of "how do we build a relationship with the consumer?"

The past few years have seen huge efforts made in better understanding consumer engagement and some amazing technologies are emerging to support personalization and to support improved engagement.

Patient and consumer truly have become synonymous, not because we are dehumanizing patients, but because they [marketers] have finally seen the wisdom of humanizing consumers.

Once we accept that this debate is largely semantic, the real question that we should be asking is "how can we benefit from this growing pool of knowledge about consumer engagement to enable the healthcare industry to improve patient engagement in a digital world?"

In his article “The 7 Habits of Highly Patient Centric Providers” , David Chase clearly defined the difference between engagement and compliance. In building a long-lasting interaction, it is no longer enough to assume that a patient will be compliant. Instead it will be necessary to develop systems which use common communication tools to build engagement.

If practitioners and health service providers hope to be able to use the same communication tools (email, phone, SMS) to engage their patients, it’s important to understand that they will be competing with businesses and even the president of the United States for the patient’s attention.

As such it will be important to understand the way in which people interact with communication today, and it will be critical to learn how to build systems which enable highly personalized patient engagement based on their unique situation and leveraging an existing personal relationship between practitioner and patient.

As EHR adoption skyrockets its success, or failure, will hinge on its ability to enable patient and practitioner engagement and to maintain that engagement over time. An unengaged EHR offers very little benefit over existing record management systems. The system itself must be able to provide real benefits to both groups, and to maintain this benefit through an intelligent engagement mechanism.

Without the patient being an engaged and active participant in the process we lose much of the benefit of digital health management. As we move into the digital healthcare age, patient engagement must be at the heart of any systems we hope to implement.

Even though most of my experience has been outside health, since my first engagement in the health information space almost a decade ago, my experience has shown me there are many companies who have fantastic SEEMINGLY customer-centric solutions which provide real benefits to their customers BUT struggle to build engagement and to “help the customer help themselves”

The biggest difference between traditional consumer markets and health care is that in traditional consumer markets the failure to build engagement results in poor sales results while in health care this failure results in poor patient outcomes and failed adoption of potentially life changing technology.

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