How to Develop Breakthrough Technologies for Patient Engagement

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"In our country, patients are the most underutilized resource, and they have the most at stake…We should remember that the real goal of improved health information systems is not better hospitals or better physician practices but better quality of care and healthier citizens.” — Charles Safran, M.D., President of the American Medical Informatics Association

In the decade since Dr. Safran shared these remarks at a  U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing, public policies and organizational strategies have shifted toward patient-centered care. Technologies to support patient engagement continue to be designed and implemented, but selecting the most promising, value-generating technologies has vexed the health care community. This is due, in part, to the many complex factors patient engagement technologies must consider, as well as the sheer volume of new technologies available.

To better understand the technologies most likely to improve patient engagement and health outcomes, the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard University partnered with the Commonwealth Fund Breakthrough Health Care Opportunities Program to crowdsource breakthrough ideas with our professional virtual community of more than 15,000 health care professionals from around the world on GHDonline.org.

The online event hosted in December 2014, welcomed submissions of technology innovations for patient engagement at all stages of development. These ideas are reviewed, curated, and shared for discussion in the community, with guidance from a panel of expert advisors. Leaders in health care innovation and consumer engagement also shared their expertise and insights on how patient engagement can generate value for patients and populations. Here’s David Bates, M.D., on developing “sticky” technology for patient engagement:

Experts identified four common attributes of effective technologies for patient engagement: sticky, delightful, mobile, and social.

The event’s submissions and keynote presentations demonstrated principles of value-based health care delivery in action. In Redefining Health Care, Michael Porter defines values as the social benefit per unit of cost. He asserts that information is fundamental to delivering value in health care. Patient value is created when supporting activities across a care cycle serve to inform and engage, measure, and improve access.

Data from our event showed that technologies for patient engagement that serve these three purposes well can and do create value for patients and populations. For example, an idea submitted by Abhijit Bhograj, M.D., an endocrinology resident working in Bangalore, India, would enable patients to share their medical history with a provider before a clinical visit. Based on the patient's primary concern, the application may ask specific questions or suggest testing needed prior to the visit. The provider would then use this information to plan for the visit and prepare to discuss treatment options or next steps with the patient. This application is a prime example of technology supporting access in Porter’s care delivery value chain, as it improves a patient's ability to communicate with their providers and could save costs and time to diagnoses. It is "mobile," both as a literal mobile application, and also as a technology that meets both patients and providers where they currently are. It is "social," fostering a collaborative network that includes both the medical team (nurses, physicians, social workers, pharmacists) and patients. It has the potential to be both "sticky" and “delightful” as it would significantly improve the patient's experience as a consumer, and maximize the limited time they have with their health care providers.

With the dramatic increase in public and private financing for health technologies, the health care community has an unprecedented opportunity and responsibility to study, test, develop, and improve technologies that will best serve patients in their homes, schools, and communities. The range of ideas and insights shared in our event reflects a promising outlook for the road ahead. The consensus is that engaged patients better generate value for themselves and their communities. Sticky, delightful, mobile, and social technologies that support patients in this endeavor—by informing, measuring, and improving access—have the greatest potential to fulfill what Dr. Safran calls the “real goal” of health information systems: high quality care and healthier populations.

For more details on this event, and GHD’s findings, please review the full report on GHDonline.

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