Investing in technology to engage patients may be costly now, but healthcare leaders and providers say those investments will eventually lead to lower costs and better value, according to a survey.
Sixty-six percent of physicians surveyed say that digital technology would reduce burdens on the healthcare system, including costs. The survey was conducted in early 2018 by EY, a global advisory company, and included nearly 2,500 consumers, 152 physicians and 195 healthcare executives.
Rachel Hall, principal and advisory health digital offering leader at EY, says that the challenge many healthcare organizations face is investing in the right technology to interact with patients.
“We know that physicians are inundated with tasks and information that detract from their ability to interact with their patients. Finding the right tools and analytics to incorporate consumer data into provider care flows and decision making is extremely important. The last thing we want to do is add to care providers workload,” Hall says.
How consumers use technology
The survey found that healthcare consumers are interested in more technology engagement with providers. More than half (56%) of consumers surveyed say they have used some type of digital engagement with physicians in the past year. Twenty-five percent say they go online to make an appointment or fill out forms. One-third of consumers say they are interested in using smartphones to send information to physicians and more than 20% say they are interested in video consultations.
Reaching patients as consumers is the key to increase engagement, Hall says, making technology interactions as easy as possible. The survey found that 61% of consumers would share more information digitally if it reduced wait times; 55% would share more information if it reduced costs.
“To further incentivize online engagement, physicians can emphasize tools that will minimize wait times and maximize convenience and simplicity for patients, which respondents in our survey indicated was one of the biggest motivators to increase digital engagement,” Halls says.
Overcoming communication barriers
Though technology communications are increasing, consumers still have some hesitation—58% prefer in person interaction with a physician compared to 7% who prefer online interaction. Hall says a combination of technology communication offerings can help build trust with patients over time.
The survey found when top incentives such as reduced wait times, cost savings and a tailored diet and exercise plan were combined, 85% of consumers would be willing to engage with providers through digital communications. Nearly 75% of consumers said they would share lifestyle information, including social, financial and mental well-being information, if it would lead to better comprehensive care.
“Trust is an important part of getting people to engage digitally and share information. People trust their physicians with medical data, which is some of the most personal information that we can imagine sharing,” Hall says. “Transparency and clearly communicating to patients what digital data will be gathered, how it will be used, and how it will be securely stored can encourage sharing. Additionally, clearly articulating the benefits of digital engagement helps.”
Multiple technology solutions
Ultimately, Hall says a combination of engagement tools and utilizing existing EHR features will increase patient engagement with providers. Fitness trackers, at-home diagnostic kits, mobile apps and sensor devices were all mentioned in the survey as consumer-generated data becomes an important link to patient engagement.
“There will likely be more than one solution, and part of planning will be to figure out which is the right one for a particular organization,” Hall says. “It will depend on the patient population, IT infrastructure of the organization, and the desired outcomes. For some, the answer could be applications that interface with an EHR system. For others, it may be accomplished by partnering with or acquiring data aggregation technology, and still others may require a consolidated/integrated platform.”