How To Choose Tools For Physician-Patient Engagement

Posted on September 22, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

To transition from fee-for-service reimbursement to value-based care, it’s pretty much a given that we have to do a better job of getting patients engaged with their physicians and overall plan of care. However, despite the array of intriguing digital health and mobile technologies we have available to get the job done, it’s still not clear exactly how to do it.

But according to one health IT exec, it all boils down to understanding how the various tools and technologies work and integrating them into your practice. Dr. Ali Hussam, CEO of outcomes data collection firm OBERD, suggests that the following tools are particularly important. I’ve listed his suggestions, and added some thoughts of my own:

  • Educational technologies: Physicians can use these tools to make sure patients are prepared to have an intelligent discussion of their health status, he notes. My take: It’s hard to argue that this makes sense; in fact, this concept is so important that I’m surprised it isn’t mentioned more often as part of the broader patient engagement picture.  
  • Electronic questionnaires: Hussam argues that since value-based care calls for quantifiable outcome measurements, it’s smart to use electronic questionnaires, which are more appealing, efficient and sophisticated than paper tools. My response to this is that while it’s a good idea, it will be important that the questionnaires be based on well-defined measures which the provider organization trusts, and these may not be easy to come by at first.
  • Wearables: Patients may already be using wearables to monitor their own health metrics, but it’s time to make better use of their presence, Hussam suggest. Physicians can step up their value by using the information to improve the quality of health discussions and intervene in response to the data if needed.  It’s hard to argue that he’s right about the potential uses of wearables. However, there’s a lot of doubt about their accuracy, so my sense is that many physicians are still reluctant to make use of them given the clinical accuracy questions which still bedeviled these devices.

Along with recommending these approaches to engagement, Hussam offers some tips for implementing patient engagement technology, including:

  • Focus on patient outcome: Hussam recommends sending a patient-determined outcome as the focus of care, and explaining to patients how engagement technology can help them meet this goal. Plain and simple, this sounds like an excellent idea, as patients are more likely to succeed at meeting goals they have embraced.
  • Solicit feedback: Effective engagement tools “should offer patients a sense of individual attention and intimacy by soliciting feedback about individual patients’ entire healthcare experience,” along with offering care data. He argues, I think compellingly, that this exchange of information could help providers succeed under merit-based incentive payment programs.
  • Encourage responses to questionnaires: As Hussam noted previously, providers must collect data to succeed at outcome-based payment models. But he also notes correctly that these questionnaires and help patients achieve their desired health outcomes by tracking what’s going on with their health. No matter how you couch things, however, patients may need additional encouragement to fill out forms. Perhaps it would make sense to have med techs go through the questionnaires with patients prior to their physician encounter, at least at first.

As Hussam’s analysis suggests, engaging patients isn’t just a matter of presenting them with shiny new technologies. It’s critical to align patient use of the technologies with goals they hope to meet, and to explain how the tools can get them there.

Otherwise, both patients and providers will see little benefit from throwing engagement tools into the mix.