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Uniting the Full Continuum of Care for the Individual: Why Digital Technologies Must Embrace Holistic Patient Engagement

by Mary Kay Thalken, RN, MBA on Aug 28, 2019

More than half of healthcare professionals believe digitization is transforming the healthcare industry. Of adults 55+, 85% believe technology will improve healthcare in the next five years by delivering faster and more accurate diagnoses, curing diseases, and predicting and preventing diseases and conditions before they happen. However, 35% of seniors feel their health plans do not use any technology to improve access, information, or care, and they want more tech-enabled solutions.

Though the first two survey findings from 2017-2018 are encouraging, the third speaks loudly to this need: payer organizations as well as provider organizations must examine what is lagging in their technology offerings to better serve our biggest generation of people spanning the birth years of 1946 to 1964. From politics to fiscal projections, it’s reasonable to predict that Baby Boomers will have an outsized influence on the healthcare technology landscape for years to come.

The projected growth of this population has also caught the eye of Washington. In March, the US Task Force on Research and Development for Technology to Support Aging Adults and the Committee on Technology of the Science & Technology Council released the “Emerging Technologies to Support an Aging Population Report.” It identified six primary functional capabilities as being critical to individuals who wish to maintain their independence as they age and for which technology may have a positive impact:

  • Key activities of independent living
  • Cognition
  • Communication and social connectivity
  • Personal mobility
  • Transportation
  • Access to healthcare

Unquestionably, digitization is penetrating healthcare, including the burgeoning post-acute acute marketplace. In my role, I converse with leaders reshaping the patient’s continuing health recovery, from discharge to home health and hospice centers, skilled nursing facilities, rehab facilities, long-term care hospitals, or home. As a former nurse and provider business executive, it’s an exciting time to work in innovation on behalf of end users and patients who will benefit from enabling technology that unites the full continuum of care.

Why holistic patient engagement matters

Still, national survey results that look at the opinions of the senior population are a serious wake-up call, warning us all that a lot more work must be done – particularly in the critical area of patient engagement.

Granted it seems marginally small that only 35% of seniors think their health plans do not use technology to improve access, information, or care and have a desire for more tech solutions. Now consider this survey result in the context of the aging boomer population and their share of national health expenditures, which is expected to reach $6 trillion in less than 10 years. This powerful moment of clarity challenges the status quo, moving us forward in making tech-enabled patient engagement for adults 55+ a top priority.

Connecting digital technologies to the patient starts with a holistic view of that person’s entire care engagement experience. Subsequently, to unify the patient’s entire care experience through the use of technologies, we must zero in on what’s important to that person in terms of social determinants of health at every touch point. In short, we must create a tech-enabled, personalized experience specific to each patient’s individualized care and other needs, starting from within the hospital to discharge post-acute care facility or home.

The patient’s recovery or chronic care journey doesn’t stop there. Providers can address and integrate comprehensively the needs of patients who are spending more time outside instead of inside the brick-and-mortar walls of the hospital. We can effectively manage those patients — coordinate, personalize, individualize, and enrich their care alias tying all the disparate pieces together — to improve overall their experience, the goal of wellness, and outcomes.


Recommended best practices

On October 2, 2018, 48 health IT leaders from provider and vendor organizations gathered outside of Salt Lake City for one day to collaborate with KLAS Research. Participants developed a framework of key patient engagement initiatives and took part in discussions about best practices either observed or used. The following is those most often cited successful practices focused on the individual that healthcare organizations can use as a planning tool.

Technology

  • Create easy-to-use apps
  • Create cloud-based software solutions
  • Adopt telehealth capabilities

Analytics

  • Gather and analyze social determinants of health
  • Gather and analyze behavioral habits (travel patterns, transportation)

Convenient Care

  • Enable 24/7 access to care team
  • Enable communication with care team (text, email, phone, video)
  • Enable communication with patient (text, email, phone, video)
  • Enable families to communicate with care team (text, email, phone, video)
  • Allow patients to choose how they want to communicate

Right Care Setting

  • Direct patients to the appropriate care setting (nurse practitioner, urgent care, or primary care physician)
  • Let patients go to the care setting at which they will be best served
  • Bring the right care to the patient (24-hour nurse line, telehealth)

Personalized Care

  • Provide patient education and personalized discharge instructions
  • Assign health buddy or care manager to patients as they leave
  • Include patients in the process of setting goals and choosing interventions
  • Enable physicians and nurses to engage with patient during the encounter
  • Incent patients to participate in wellness activities and make healthy lifestyle choices

Provider Organization

  • Develop a patient engagement vision and road map
  • Adopt effective change management when implementing patient engagement strategies

Our industry is facing a colossal transformation over the next 30 years as value-based healthcare solidifies and Baby Boomers dominate the use of healthcare services. Despite their collective differences and perceptions, multi-generations—including the largest groups, the Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z—working together creates the potential for creativity, community, coordination, and optimization of enabling technology solutions to enhance quality of life.

No doubt about it, a seismic shift to management and engagement of individuals is underway. To not prepare begets gaps in care that lead to poor outcomes and tremendous waste and spending.

Original article
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Meet the Author

Thalken brings more than 30 years of experience in health-care leadership to our company. Prior to joining the company, she served as Enterprise Vice President for Care Logistics in Atlanta, Ga. She has held executive leadership positions at hospitals in Nebraska and Iowa, including the position of System Quality Executive for Alegent Health. Thalken has presented on the topics of improving quality, patient flow and throughput at various industry conferences and webinars. Thalken holds an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, American Organization of Nurse Executives and American Case Management Association.

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