Patient Engagement – A Healthcare Reform Topic Everyone Can Agree On
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Information is power, but only when used and applied. It is this principle that has healthcare providers (and even politicians) finding rare agreement on one aspect of the polarizing health care reform landscape in the U.S. The common ground is that patient engagement measures have the potential to be one of the most transformative aspects impacting quality of care.
Changing provider behavior to give patients transparent access to their health care information will advance the consumerized health care model where patients are more informed and involved in the direction of their care.
Yet at the end of 2012, health care news headlines lit up with provider concerns about patient engagement measures. Like this story, “CMS official: We might revisit Meaningful Use patient engagement rules,” which indicated that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services may reconsider its requirements for patient engagement in Meaningful Use Stage 2 if complying proves too onerous for care providers.
Lowering measures for patient engagement—which will likely do more to reduce health care costs and improve outcomes than almost anything else—would be a mistake and a disservice to patients. Measures like those outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are necessary to drive timely change. And each part of the Stage 2 patient engagement measures compels providers to deliver timely access to patient information and enable that information to be shared.
There is a manageable path to patient engagement and it is gaining ground. Let us take a look at patient engagement motivators and health impact in one clinical specialty: radiology.
New patient portals are being deployed that allow patients to easily and securely download their X-ray exams, review the diagnosis on the radiology report, and share that information with physicians, specialists or others of their choosing. Being able to access both the diagnostic report and the images is vital because this is the starting point for treatment decisions by physicians.
Consider the case of a student athlete whose team physician has been monitoring a knee injury through the season with a series of MRIs. While the athlete previously had relied on the physician to use the images and the radiology report to determine treatment, a patient portal allows the student athlete to engage other physicians as desired or use the information to make their own decisions about physical therapy and surgical options.
Another key benefit of a patient portal is that it can play an important role in reducing the likelihood of unnecessary testing since second opinions can be obtained from viewing the original digital imaging exam. This process can help reduce radiation exposure for the patient and can help lower the costs associated with repeat radiology exams.
Houston Medical Imaging, Inc., an innovative network of diagnostic imaging centers in Texas, tested this technology and reports that patients immediately embraced the portal, which is accessible from their web site. Enabling access to information helps patients feel included and trusted by their doctors. In fact, it lets them partner with their doctors in the management of their health care and further strengthens the physician-patient bond which is a critical foundation for achieving improved outcomes.
A similar patient portal test at Lagosanto Hospital, a large, public health facility in Italy that performs more than 150,000 X-ray exams each year, revealed that the majority of patients were so happy with electronic access to their radiology images that 98% of them chose to continue using the radiology portal.
Informed patients are empowered patients. As physicians’ use of information sharing technology continues to grow, and if the commitment to patient engagement remains steadfast and free from political or bureaucratic entanglements, I am confident we will see proof of how technology can support the vital human connection that is at the core of quality health care.