Here at the Connected Health Symposium the showroom floor is atwitter with conversations around patient engagement. Everyone is discussing ways to best engage patients and, not surprisingly, what the price tag of such ambitious efforts will amount to. I am confronted with enthusiastic smiles when I point to data that shows that engaging patients actually reduces costs for healthcare organizations. Meeting patients half way with collaborative tools is actually cost effective healthcare at its finest.
In fact, data from IHI shows that patients receive better care when healthcare organizations put the highest emphasis on the entire healthcare system that patients use to receive care. By incorporating the critical components of clinical care into executive decisions, healthcare executives better realize quality outcomes and became market leaders. IHI found that organizations had better clinical outcomes at lower cost when: (1) Data is integrated in such a way that design of care can travel across an entire patient episode and (2) Patients were engaged in the design of their care.
The fragmentation of the patient experience leads to increased cost and decreased patient experience. This is a lose-lose situation for healthcare providers. Conversely, providers can win through increased collaboration with patients. There are many smart options available to invite patients into decisions related to the design of clinical care. Healthcare portals can be used to empower patients by providing meaningful access to their care and connect a patient to the entire health system that impacts their care. Similarly, community portals can be created to connect patients to those with similar disease states for information sharing, support, and advice. This empowers patients to work with healthcare organizations in creating cost saving, and patient centric, clinical care.
One great example of patient engagement in care using collaborative and social technologies were found in the “Miami Project” used to enhance the quality of care for diabetic populations in low income areas. In a joint effort between Microsoft and the University of Miami, a group of diabetes patients were given computers and trained on the Internet. They were then able to communicate with doctors and nurse practitioners via portals. The portal was used not only to transmit data about weight and self-administered blood sugar tests but also as a virtual classroom to learn about nutrition, exercise, and diabetes care. Patients were enabled with the ability to send instant messages and email to their healthcare providers and to discuss their disease with other diabetes patients via discussion boards. These patients were invited into the design of their care plan. This research showed a strong correlation between patient involvement and a decrease in the high cost of readmissions and the ongoing management diabetes.