Describe a patient engagement solution, and chances are the description will start with “the place where a patient can go…
- to request appointments,
- to view their health information, or
- to read messages from their provider.”
Ultimately, it’s a space shared between all parties involved trying to achieve the best outcome for the patient. Patient engagement is about connecting the healthcare professional with patients. Health IT helps to make that connection easier.
But let’s start with the original healthcare shared space: the doctor’s office. It’s a place for interactive, interpersonal communication. Questions are immediately answered. Feedback, both verbal and non-verbal, is promptly given. When they meet, each party brings with them their respective field of expertise. Very few communication barriers exist in this shared space.
The challenge comes when patients need to connect with providers and they are not in the doctor’s office. Follow-up phone calls which have long been the standard are now being replaced with online technology solutions. Telehealth and online chats provide the same limited interactions as phone calls, allowing for real-time visits but without being in the doctor’s office. But telehealth is limited as there is no physical contact to do baseline tests such as vitals. Online chats rely on typed words. These tools create shared spaces that exist only as long as the two parties remain connected. Once the phone call, video or online chat ends, the shared space ceases to exist.
This is where patient portals step in. Access to these portals makes healthcare systems available any time of day, all days of the year, creating a virtual shared space for mediated transactional or linear communication between patient and provider. Mobile applications put that shared space right on the patient’s device.
The portal sits as a digital communication space, notifying one or the other about what needs to be accomplished. Take VitalHealth’s QuestLink™ application. The patient is reminded to complete a questionnaire at intervals selected by their provider. The provider then reviews the responses and can take action, or not. After review, the patient responses remain in the QuestLink™ system. Over the course of time, the provider can review and compare past and present responses. With long-term monitoring, subtle changes don’t go unnoticed. And that provides better outcomes for the patient.
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Most healthcare shared spaces exist to help both the patient and the provider. It’s up to each individual provider to determine what space would be most appropriate for them and their patients. Keeping in contact virtually helps them to know when and if a patient needs to be seen in the office. Being able to do transactional and linear tasks online reduces costs and makes face-to-face patient interactions more productive. As a course of treatment continues, the digital shared space becomes as reliable as the physical doctor’s office, gaining trust by the patient as a space in which they actively need and want to be engaged.