5 Questions About Your Digital Health Strategy

Nov. 10, 2016
Consumer attitudes and habits regarding their digital health records are changing. A Marshfield Clinic executive discusses the creation of a digital health strategy to engage patients.

Marshfield Clinic, a Wisconsin-based integrated health system, has made a concerted effort to develop a digital strategy for patient engagement that includes the development of homegrown mobile apps for virtual visits.  But as Brandon Parkhurst, M.D., M.B.A., Marshfield’s medical director of patient experience, notes, some efforts take years of preparation before they can be successfully launched.

Speaking at a Nov. 9 eHealth Initiative webinar, Parkhurst said laying the groundwork for new digital initiatives at the 700-physician organization requires three to four years of pre-work. We have been working on Open Notes for almost 10 years and are just getting ready to operationalize it,” he said.

Marshfield gets regular feedback from patients about their experience. “Unlike many organizations, we make that information available on our external web site,” Parkhurst said. “We see this as empowering to our patients and an effort to establish trust. We think they can use it to make their lives better.  He said Marshfield has seen a 15 percent increase in web traffic since implementing the feature. It plans to roll out Open Notes in pilot form during calendar 2017, and is working on online check-in features for uploading demographics and other information.

Parkhurst said Marshfield also plans to incorporate patient-generated health data. “We are working on that.  We will have patient data integrated in a more robust fashion soon,” he added. “Bringing in data from wearables is on our roadmap but is a few more years down the road. I see that as an activating activity. If a patient is using a wearable to track blood pressure or sleep, as a provider, I can ask them about it, and see their goals. I can bring that info into their medical record through my interactions. Integrating the data just provides another avenue. It needs to occur but it hasn’t been the highest priority for us.”

Marshfield has made a culture of openness and transparency with patients a cultural norm, Parkhurst said.  “There has been a normalization of the idea that sharing information with patients is the right thing to do for patients, providers, and the organization. It is a cultural thing for us. We set it up as an expectation.”

Speaking during the same webinar, Kip Webb, M.D., M.P.H., North America Provider Portfolio Lead for Accenture Health, revealed some survey results showing that more U.S. consumers with electronic health records are accessing their records. He noted that consumers think they should have full access to their EHR, but many physicians are reluctant to provide that access, perhaps in part due to physician dissatisfaction with EHRs. Physicians and patients also do not agree on which elements of the EHR patients should be allowed to update themselves.

The survey research also shows that the use of health apps and wearables has doubled in the past two years among health technology users.

Webb ended his presentation with a list of five questions that every provider organization should ask:

1. Does our organization have a fully baked digital strategy?

2. Patients are increasing looking for digital experiences similar to those they have in other aspects of their lives. How is our organization planning to meet this demand?

3. Since the age of Hippocrates, doctors and patients have never seen eye-to-eye regarding data transparency. How is our organization helping to bridge this gap?

4. Patients are increasingly generating their own data. How is our organization enabling the aggregation of this data and using it to improve outcomes?

5. In light of increasing patient demands, how is our organization keeping healthcare information private and secure?