Smart Health: Hospitals using smartphones to connect and engage with patients

smartphone patient engagementConnect with your patients… one smartphone at a time.

Today, smartphones can be found in the hands of 58% of American adults and they’re checking those phones at least once an hour. It only makes sense that this growing use of technology would carry over to healthcare.

As a healthcare professional and technology lover I’m always looking for better ways to connect patients with their care team. When I say better, I’m looking for options that engage patients, fit with their increasingly mobile lifestyle and help drive better outcomes. A recent FICO study caught my eye when it stated smartphone users want both health care alerts and are looking for a partner in their care.

Today, smartphones can be found in the hands of 58% of American adults and they’re checking those phones at least once an hour. It only makes sense that this growing use of technology would carry over to healthcare. If a person can be reminded about their upcoming hair appointment, why can’t they be reminded to refill their prescription? The FICO study also suggests that people are looking for a partner to help them manage their health.

This makes sense to me and it seems like smartphone alerts could be a successful engagement tool for doctors, hospitals and insurance providers. A quick Google search highlighted a few hospitals that are ahead of the curve. Take Desert Hospital in California, their outpatient pharmacy offers a smartphone app that lets their patients order refills as well as receive alerts and reminders about their medications.

Nyack Hospital in New York and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in Missouri are using smartphone alerts to help reduce hospital readmissions. The goal is to monitor both medication adherence and refill status during that first, critical month following surgery. These hospitals found that not taking post-operative medications correctly and not getting prescriptions refilled were the biggest causes of hospital readmissions. By sending smartphone alerts, both hospitals were able to keep patients on their treatment regiments and reduce readmissions.

In the spirit of a true health partnership, the LewisGale Regional Health System in Virginia lets patients alert the hospital about their arrival to the emergency room. This reverse alert program allows the hospital to plan for needed resources and be better prepared to provide personalized patient care.

The smartphone alert programs offered by these hospitals shine a spotlight on the successful use of technology in healthcare. These examples highlight benefits for both patients and healthcare providers. They also demonstrate the value of patient engagement in improving outcomes.

Another Google search helped me pull together a list of tips and things to consider when thinking about starting a smartphone alert program for your organization.

  1. Think technology and effectiveness. How tech savvy is your patient demographic? What will be more effective, a text or app based alert program?
  1. Stay true to your voice. Keep in mind your healthcare profile, as well as the guidelines and policies of your organization.
  1. Know your patient demographic. Create alert programs to meet your patient’s needs, keep the information focused and clear.
  1. Understand cellular charges. What are the implications of potential cellular charges on patients using the alert program?
  1. Stay up-to-date. Follow industry changes in regulations, new research, guidelines and medications; update the program as needed.
  1. Know your geography. Smartphone alert programs are only as reliable as the cellular network they operate on. Where do your patients live, what’s the reception like in your area, will they receive the alerts?
  1. Define the timeframe for alerts. Research the best and worst times to send alerts. Understand the frequency needed to be effective.

The FICO study offers valuable learnings for healthcare providers seeking to engage patients. Smartphone alert programs provide an opportunity to stay connected, improve outcomes and to become a trusted partner in your patient’s healthcare.

Google Glass and Patient Engagement – Is This a Match Made in Heaven?

Google Glass in Patient EngagementBeing a medical professional, Glass Explorer and the co-founder of a healthcare data company, when a new technology is launched I immediately think…  How can we use this to improve healthcare? How can we use the data and the information the technology enables to better connect the healthcare community?

The launch of Google Glass had myself – and many other healthcare professionals – asking just these questions. It’s been exciting to watch the uptake of Glass in the medical space. Despite the privacy concerns people are exploring ways to use the technology to improve healthcare.

I’m a true believer in the value of patient engagement and have participated in research asking healthcare professionals and health consumers to share their feedback on the current state of patient engagement. The findings have been eye opening and I think point to the need for significant change in the way healthcare is provided. Technology will certainly play a role in these changes, as will digital natives who can easily envision a tech enabled future.

Industry work in the patient engagement space naturally lead me to wonder how Google Glass could be used as a tool to enhance engagement. As I thought about the feedback shared by the Millennials and Gen Xers, I put together a list of ways I could see Glass enhancing patient engagement.

-Glass providing a take home video record for new information and procedures learned during the patient’s office visit

During office visits patients are frequently given a great deal of information in a short period of time. It can be challenging to remember everything that was discussed and be able to duplicate what was learned when back home and doing things for themselves.

Why not use Glass to record the learning segments of the office visit. This can provide patients with a video recording to watch when needed and ensure they can duplicate the dressing change, dosing schedule or follow the post op instructions provided by their healthcare team.

I recently read an article that highlights the need for educational follow-up tools like a Glass recording: Fundamental Facts About Patient Education.

-Glass and Google+ Hangouts used for virtual office visits, check in sessions and progress updates

Our research with Millennials and Gen Xers told us loud and clear that these health consumers are looking for an alternative to the standard office visit. They want fast and easy online options to get questions answered, discuss lab and test results and reorder medications. They made it very clear that phone calls and office visits were not solutions that met their needs.

You can read more from these health consumers at: Do Gen Xers and Millennials hold the key to success for the Affordable Care Act?

-Glass as a diary tool for health related activities

Want to really understand how everyday activities impact your health? Write them down, use a diary and track your activity. Using Glass as a tool to quickly and easily record blood sugars, food intake, weight, wound healing progress, events during a cardiac incident or any health related metric can be an important tool in managing – and improving – patient outcomes.

Face time with the patient’s healthcare team is limited; understanding what’s happening while the patient is off living their life can be key to managing chronic diseases and achieving health goals. Using Glass as a very simple, minimal effort way to track health related activities can provide a wealth of information to be used in managing a patient’s health.

Tracking How Much Food We Eat Can Be a Challenge offers interesting insights on the challenges of tracking health information and tools scientists are exploring to solve the problem. Let’s add Glass to the list of tools.

-Glass as a reminder tool to reinforce desired health behaviors

People forget things, patients forget things; the best plans can veer off course. How can health care professionals support patient adherence to treatment plans? Stay in touch and schedule reminders. Glass is a perfect answer. We already mentioned Google+ Hangouts, now add reminders via Glass. Alert the patient when medications should be taken, blood press checked, to fit in their daily exercise or any variety of needed health messages designed to drive desired health behaviors.

Using reminders and alerts is not new to healthcare and there seems to be a growing body of evidence supporting this approach. The recent article Cell-Phone Program Improves Diabetes Outcomes, Saves Costs highlights the benefits of reminder programs.

Certainly some of these things could be accomplished with other devices but what I like about the Glass option is the ‘only there when needed’ aspect of the technology. When used correctly, Glass is there in the background, waiting to be needed and activated. When I think about how we make engagement efforts work, I think of being available when the patient needs support. Glass can be a good fit for engagement efforts, allowing the patient’s healthcare team to be there and ready to offer support – at the right times.

What do you think of Glass as a patient engagement tool? For the moment let’s put HIPAA issues and cost aside and simply think of the technology and what it could do to facilitate patient engagement and improve health outcomes.

An open discussion around patient engagement…

Business CommunicationAs a healthcare professional I believe patient engagement is critical to successful outcomes. From my perspective, the more engaged and involved a person is in their own healthcare the better chance we have of helping them achieve their personal health goals.

As the co-founder of a healthcare data company I find the research and statistics around patient engagement interesting and thought provoking. Over the past few month as I’ve been reading industry articles, different information and stats have caught my eye. Causing me to stop and think about what can we learn from what others have shared. I’ve been asking myself, how can we use our industry information and experience to help us better engage patients?

Going back through my notes I’ve pulled a few articles and stats I believe we can learn from and that can provide direction in our patient engagement efforts. As a start to the discussion, I’ve offered my thoughts and look forward to ideas and input from other healthcare professionals, patients and health consumers.

Let’s Talk Patient Engagement

True patient engagement has metrics of demonstrable success – at scale – over time.

What can we learn?

It’s important to share our success and failures, to be open with our best practices and collaborate on patient engagement efforts. Working together, sharing what has worked and what hasn’t can go a long way in expanding patient engagement activities. Putting numbers around successful outcomes can pave the way for change. Best practices can act as road maps for those just starting down the pathway to patient engagement.

“The path that most Americans are traveling is on their mobile devices.

What can we learn?

People are mobile; healthcare needs to be as well. Healthcare information needs to be easily accessible on mobile devices. Mobile healthcare apps play a critical role in patient engagement; let’s get our focus there. Let’s encourage physicians to prescribe mobile apps. Let’s make them interactive, used as a two-way communication channel. Let’s explore unmet needs and utilize mobile health tools to resolve these needs.

“Millennials are more familiar with the term patient engagement than their Gen X counterparts.

What can we learn?

Target your messaging. The best way to ensure your message resonates is to make it audience specific. Talk to the health consumers you want to reach, understand what they need and how you can help them. Do your homework; determine how they like to get their information.

“Leadership will be determined in part by the capacity to leverage new tools to build, communicate and influence.

What can we learn?

Digital natives will slowly begin to assume leadership roles in medicine, let’s look to them to for ways to engage the growing base of digital native health consumers. Let’s be open to their ideas and support their change efforts. I see this as one of the most exciting areas of patient engagement – the growing community of digital native physicians and the ideas they bring to medicine.

“In this model the patient is in charge of their own health care and they are building their trusted networks.

What can we learn?

Healthcare conversations are taking place on social media, with or without you. To maintain the role of trusted health advisor and be in a position to truly engage patients it’s imperative for physicians, healthcare organizations and pharmaceutical companies to be an active participant in the online healthcare discussion.

“Pharmaceutical companies are starting to deal with the lack of regulatory transparency by publishing their own guidelines. However, even with these safeguards in place AstraZeneca was forced to pull a Twitter campaign in August 2013.

What can we learn?

Pharma will make mistakes, but those companies that are trying to engage and are open to new channels of communication deserve our support. Let’s share information, guidelines and best practices to support Pharma’s efforts. Let’s work with them to develop programs and tools that solve patient problems and enhance engagement.

Let the discussion begin…

What are your thoughts on these articles and statistics? What do you think we can learn and share within our healthcare community?

Do you have an interesting article you think we should read? Share it, let’s learn together.