Thinking About Patient Engagement and Meaningful Use – What’s Missing

A few months ago I was presenting as part of a panel at a Central and North Florida HIMSS Chapter event entitled Meaningful Use / Patient Engagement / HIE: Experiences from the Trenches… and tying it all Together for the Benefit of the Patient!.  (Slides Here)

My excellent co-panelists were all hospital executives, IT staff or consultants discussing the various meaningful use rules, where their organization’s were in the implementation process,  how they got there and lessons learned. When it was my turn to present, having been asked to focus on engagement, I offered the audience a few questions before beginning:

  • How many of you use email as your primary form of communication?  A large number of hands went up
  • How many of you use telephone calls as your primary form of communication? Another group of hands went up
  • How many of you use text messages? Still another group of hands went up

This was followed by the comment, if you all use different forms of communication, how many of you have a patient portal that shows more than one page to a patient about any given topic? Is there any difference in language, literacy, video versus print versus audio based upon the patients unique needs?   Not a hand went up.

A fellow panelist then said, “you know I have a very large Hispanic population, they can’t do anything with my portal.” Bingo!

Suddenly attendees understood that when one of the executives from a large health system had earlier stated they had  11,000 hits to their patient portal since implementation, that this was a start but more was needed given the tens of thousands of patient interactions the hospital and its physicians had every month. And on the discussion went as the presenters and participants began to analyze what they had done and what is needed to truly engage and make their systems meaningful to their patients.

Rules such as Meaningful Use are okay, they are a step on the road to creating something useful for the patient, but they don’t get to the heart of the problem.   If patients go to your site and have a very low literacy, they probably can’t comprehend your site, or perhaps they  learn better via videos instead of text, or perhaps they don’t use the web at all. All of these issues and many more must be factored in to the systems we are building to communicate with and engage patients. We must provide services to the person in the unique way and level that they need and respond to.

Meeting the Federal requirements allows us to check the governments standards box, but probably not the patients. We as an industry need to go beyond the requirements and develop systems that are truly meaningful if we plan on  “tying it all Together for the Benefit of Patient!”



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