Google reports that it currently processes in excess of 2 trillion searches a year—and approximately 5 percent of those searches are related to healthcare in some fashion. In fact, the company recently announced that it is working to improve results returned on symptom searches—which account for one percent of search volume—by augmenting its health conditions data with help from the Mayo Clinic and and Harvard Medical School.
Roughly 1 percent of all searches on Google are symptom-related.
Why are so many healthcare consumers turning to Google instead of healthcare providers for answers? Convenience probably plays a role, but there’s more to the story. Just as Google continuously improves its algorithms to increase results relevance, hospitals and other healthcare-related organizations need health data innovation to ensure relevance that can drive patient engagement.
Look Beyond Internal Data
When healthcare providers started down the path to electronic health record (EHR) implementation, expectations were high that the data would lead to patient engagement nirvana. EHR, clinical and financial systems data certainly offer value; when used in combination, the data helps hospitals spot trends, identify best practices and make progress on value-based care initiatives.
Yet, hospitals still struggle when it comes to leveraging internal data to drive greater patient engagement—and that’s a problem. In the article, “The Business Case for Patient Engagement,” Dr. Peter Edelstein, Chief Medical Officer of Elsevier Clinical Solutions, notes the research on patient engagement and activation find that low patient activation scores correlate directly to higher frequency of inpatient admissions, emergency department use and readmissions within 30 days of discharge.
On the other hand, engaged patients experience better health outcomes and lower healthcare costs. They are also more likely to:
• Take advantage of medical resources
• Adopt desirable health behaviors
• Adhere to treatment recommendations
• Manage chronic conditions more effectively
• Seek out preventive screenings
With such clear disadvantages and advantages, hospitals need to adjust their health data collection methods to progress towards greater patient engagement.
Three Types of Data You Need to Improve Patient Engagement
Rather than relying on internal data sources alone, hospitals need to look at three additional types of data that will strengthen their patient engagement strategies: patient-generated data, data sharing across the care continuum and consumer data including psychographic segmentation. Let’s take a look at each type.
1. Patient-generated data
Healthcare providers use patient-generated data already, of course. Leveraging data from health technology like insulin pumps or other remote-monitoring equipment is a far cry from incorporating the growing amount of data collected by healthcare consumers’ fitness trackers and mhealth apps into your EHR. Some providers express reluctance to “clutter up” the EHR with patient-generated data.
As PatientEngagementHIT points out, however, “… patient-generated health data does more than just add more information to an EHR – it changes the way providers interact with their patients outside of the hospital, helps healthcare experts develop new treatment plans, and even makes the patient feel like an important partner in care.” And by making patients feel as if they have “a tangible claim” in their own health, says the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), patient-generated data pushes patient engagement forward.
By making patients feel as if they have “a tangible claim” in their own health, patient-generated data pushes patient engagement forward.
2. Data sharing across the care continuum
Despite interoperability challenges, healthcare experts widely acknowledge that effective data sharing with the wide range of providers outside of hospital walls is the key to driving improvements in healthcare. According to the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) Annual Survey Information Technology Supplement, hospitals have made steady progress at sharing data with primary care physicians, ambulatory care centers, rehabilitation facilities and other providers.
How does interoperability impact patient engagement? The AHA notes that, “A critical factor in engaging patients is empowering them with meaningful information about their health, including providing them with a summary of the care received, labs, medications, images, etc. Such information is particularly important when patients want to engage in shared decision-making with their physician regarding a plan of care or course of treatment.” This is especially true when patients have multiple chronic conditions that lead to more encounters with healthcare providers throughout the year.
3. Consumer insights including psychographic segmentation
With increasing exposure to the costs of healthcare, consumers are changing, expecting experiences that more closely mimic those they have with the retail and travel/entertainment industries.
That means that hospitals must stop thinking—and reaching out—to patients based only demographic or diagnostic similarities. Psychographic segmentation digs deeper into consumers’ attitudes about health and wellness, motivations and preferred communication channels. Certain psychographic segments are also more likely to be independent and self-sufficient, relying on Google searches in the pursuit of self-care, while other segments will look directly to healthcare professionals for directive guidance. Armed with such insights, hospitals can develop precision messaging to educate and engage audiences more effectively.
Ultimately, writes Dr. Edelstein, “Popular technologies like patient portals, mobile devices and electronic health records contribute to patient and consumer engagement, education and empowerment. Total engagement however, calls for enterprise-wide shifts in attitudes, beliefs, values and culture.” It’s time to think differently about health data innovation. Are you ready?