The Implications for Patient Engagement in a Digital World
March 1, 2013
Because I have been inundated with so many articles, blogs, and discussions about patient engagement lately, I thought it would be good to take a more serious look at not only what it means, but what it means to healthcare organizations.
Patient engagement is one of the newest of many pressures now being felt as the changes mandated by the Affordable Care Act begin to take effect. Conversion to Electronic Health Records (EHR) is already underway, and Meaningful Use requires that at least 10% of U.S. patients must have access to appropriate educational information and personal health records by 2014. The goal is to have patients participate in their own care and make more health-oriented lifestyle decisions.
Right now, Meaningful Use is part of the Electronic Health Records incentive programs, which are supposed to provide patient access to electronic medical records through computers and mobile devices. However, without addressing the question of what motivates people to make real and sustainable life changes, the solutions do seem simple when the challenges are indeed complex.
So far, research has not revealed a single consistent one-size-fits-all mechanism that, as the result of reading some document — electronic, paper, or otherwise — will cause patients to magically take responsibility for their own health if they do not already do so.
With the emphasis on a technological solution, it’s ironic that many of the 30 million Americans who did not have healthcare coverage before the ACA are the same ones that cannot afford to buy a computer or mobile device. This digital divide could easily solidify the healthcare divide.
And yet we continue to move ahead technologically at breakneck speed and ignore a major population who are not only being left behind, but are at risk. If the measure of patient engagement is going to be how many patients set up electronic memberships in their physicians offices, are able to understand their medical records once revealed, and are willing to communicate electronically, we will remain far from our goal of no person left without healthcare.
The power of healing relationships, where two people are bonded in a single mission to overcome an illness, cannot be replicated digitally. And the relationships that are possible between patients and families and their caregivers require heart rather than hardware, soft compassion rather than software, and an operating ethic rather than an operating system.
Are we going to move from Electronic Medical Records to Electronic Medical Relationships? Time will tell.