Patient Engagement’s Time is Clearly Now - Part 2

April 10, 2013
Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed that this idea of getting patients to be more involved with their own health outcomes has really been pushed into the forefront of the healthcare landscape—even more so than usual. From the government’s Blue Button push to healthcare policy experts discussing it at length at a recent conference, it seems everyone has patient engagement in mind.

Not to harp on, but the patient engagement train continues to roll forward at an impressive speed. Of course, its focus and prominence are nothing new. I even wrote it about as recently as two weeks ago, and this will serve as sort of a follow-up.

Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed that this idea of getting patients to be more involved with their own health outcomes has really been pushed into the forefront of the healthcare landscape—even more so than usual.

It got a huge boost during National Health IT Week, when Farzad Mostashari, M.D., the national health IT coordinator, publicly challenged vendors to adopt the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)’s Blue Button initiative. The Blue Button allows veterans to easily view, download, and transmit (VDT) their health information into a single, portable file. Recently, the VA announced the Blue Button initiative had reached one million patients.

More than an actual thing, Dr. Mostashari argued that Blue Button is an evolving concept. It’s the idea that Americans nationwide should be able to download and transmit their data without issue. He said that adapting this capability moves the notion of viewing, downloading, and transmitting personal health information beyond just accessing that information through a personal health record (PHR) that’s tethered to a provider’s data source and makes it a personally controlled health record.

To get vendors to commit to adopt a Blue Button of their own and meet the Meaningful Use standard that requires 5 percent of patients to view, download or transmit their data by the time the 2013 HIMSS Conference rolls around in March of next year, Mostashari established a Twitter feed using the #VDTnow hashtag. Thus far, he has gotten commitments from the following vendors:

  • Alere Wellogic
  • Allscripts
  • athenahealth
  • Cerner
  • eClinicalWorks
  • Greenway Medical Technologies
  • Intellicure
  • NextGen
  • SOAPware

That wasn’t the only patient engagement news I’ve seen over the past week.  A couple of studies were recently released, which both essentially said the same thing: patients are interested in some form of patient engagement. While the systems lag, the demand is high.

This was the same message I heard when I attended a recent event hosted by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit bipartisan think-tank. The event, “Reinventing Health Care: Frontline Innovations Transforming Local Care Delivery,” had various experts discuss at the challenges to transformative healthcare innovation, while also speaking with leaders at various frontline providers who are tackling these challenges head on and are Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation grant recipients.

It was remarkable how many how many times patient engagement came up as a topic. First, it came up when the panel of experts discussed the Aspen report and the various barriers to innovation. Brent Parton, the founder of SHOUTAmerica, an organization focused on asserting the interests of young Americans in a sustainable, effective healthcare system, talked about how Google and Wikipedia have shown how many patients are clearly thirsty for health information. However, they haven’t gotten far with it, he says, and have received pushback from providers. He had a great line that is validated by many of those above studies.

“The patients are trying, but the tools aren’t quite there to help them navigate this world of information,” Parton said. He said it’s important to develop systems that providers would feel comfortable giving to their patients, since the latter is interested in taking an active role with their care plan.

I thought that was a great point. The onus of patient engagement is on providers just as much as it is on patients. Later in the event, one of the moderators, Andrew Shin, J.D., who is the current acting director for stakeholder engagement at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, mentioned the Leonard Kish blog (where he equates patient engagement to the blockbuster drug) that I talked about last week. He then asked panelists what it would take to get that “blockbuster drug” over the hump. They gave a variety of answers, many of which I thought were interesting.

Shawn Martin, vice president of advocacy and practice advancement at the American Academy of Family Physicians, a medical specialty society that represents 105,900 family physicians and medical students, talked about the method of proactive engagement. This includes, he said, using databases to identify patients and engage them. He also talked about the importance of engaging a patient’s caregiver. George Sifakis, a Washington-based director at Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), talked about the importance of having one trusted source for patients to use. Others talked about health facilitators, those who can help patients navigate the confusing language of healthcare.

The answer to Shin’s question is a complex one, which won’t be answered easily in the coming years and months. However, patients who are reading this can take satisfaction in the fact that, from government agencies to providers, and payers too, everyone in the healthcare industry is truly interested in getting you involved.

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