All current health care initiatives, whether overseen by providers, insurers, Pharma, or other industries, are focused on patient engagement. This overused but important term implies the active participation of patients in their own care. It implies that patients have the best means and educational resources available to them. Traditionally, patient education is achieve via face-to-face discussions with the physician or nurse or via third-party, preprinted written materials. Even now, 70% of patients report getting their medical information from physicians or nurses, according to a survey by the Pew Internet Research Project.
That said, more and more patients are seeking health information online – 60% of U.S. adults reported doing so within the past year, the Pew survey found.
Patients and caregivers are now becoming mobile. Baby boomers are becoming “seniors” at the rate of 8,000 per day. Mobile health digital tools can take the form of apps, multimedia offerings of videos, printable patient instructions, disease state education, and follow-up appointment reminders. These can be done with proprietary third-party platforms, or SAAS (software as a service), or practice developed and available via a portal on a website. The reason for this lies in its relevancy and the critical need for education at that corner the patient and caregiver are turning. I will discuss five touch points that are important to the patient and optimal for delivering digital health tools.
• Office encounter for a new medical problem. When a patient is seen for a new clinical problem, there is a seemingly overwhelming amount of new information transmitted. This involves the definition and description of the diagnosis; the level of severity; implications for life expectancy, occupation, and lifestyle; and the impact on others. Often patients focus on the latter issues and not the medical aspects including treatment purpose, options, and impact. Much of what was discussed with them at the encounter is forgotten. After all, how much can patients learn in a 15-minute visit? The ability to furnish patients with a digital replay of their encounter, along with educational materials pertinent to a diagnosis or recommended testing/procedure, is appealing. A company with the technology to do that is Liberate Health. (Ed. note: This publication’s parent company has a relationship with Liberate Health. Dr. Scher leads Liberate’s Digital Clinician Advisory group.) Of course, not all patients learn the same way. Guidelines on how to choose the most effective patient education material have been updated by the National Institutes of Health.
• Seeing a new health care provider. Walking into a new physician’s office is always intimidating. The encounter includes exploring personalities while discussing the clinical aspects of the visit. Compatibility with regards to treatment philosophy should be of paramount concern to the patient. Discussion surrounding how the physician communicates with and supports the patient experience goes a long way in creating a good physician-patient relationship. The mention of digital tools to recommend (apps, links to reliable website) conveys empathy, which is critical to patient engagement.
• Recommendation for new therapy, test, or procedure. While a patient’s head is swimming thinking about what will be found and recommended after a test or procedure is discussed, specifics about the test itself can be lost. Support provided via easy-to-understand digital explanation and visuals, viewed at a patient’s convenience and shared with a caregiver, seem like a no-brainer.
• Hospital discharge. The hospital discharge process is a whirlwind of explanations, instructions, and hopefully, follow-up appointments. It is usually crammed into a few minutes. In one study, only 42% of patients being discharged were able to state their diagnosis or diagnoses and even fewer (37%) were able to identify the purpose of all the medications they were going home on (Mayo Clin. Proc. 2005;80:991-4). Another larger study describes the mismatch between thoroughness of written instructions and patient understanding (JAMA Intern. Med. 2013;173:1715-22). Again, digital instructions reviewed at a convenient time and place would facilitate understanding.
• Becoming a caregiver. No one teaches a family member how to become a caregiver. It’s even harder than becoming a parent which is often facilitated by observation while growing up. Caregiving is often thrust upon someone with an untimely diagnosis of a loved one. There is upheaval on emotional, physical, and logistical levels. Caregivers are critical in the adoption of mobile health technologies. They need to be included in the delivery of these tools for a couple of reasons: They will likely be more digital savvy than the elderly patient is, and they need to have accurate information to be a better caregiver. They are the “silent majority” of health care stakeholders and probably the most critical.