One of the latest fads in healthcare is patient-engagement. This is not a new concept at all, but has been practiced in some form for decades. However, with the availability of electronic technology, physicians and healthcare institutions have now embarked on new ways to engage patients. For many years now, there has been a discord in patient-physician relationships. Patients have often felt that healthcare workers never spend adequate time on their cases, rarely allowing them to participate in any decisions and almost never explaining the details about their medical disorders. This bitterness has led many patients to seek alternative healthcare options.
There is now preliminary evidence that use of electronic technology can help improve patient-doctor relationships and also lead to effective treatments and better outcomes. Patient engagement using electronic technology is also not a new concept. It was first attempted when the Internet was developed in the mid 90s, but failed to gather storm because the technology was relatively new and there was no such thing as androids. The available mobile phones of that time were largely redundant devices that were only used for communication.
Today, almost every healthcare institution and many healthcare workers have web pages that provide educational information to patients. This was the first step in engaging patients. However, with the present availability of mobile devices, the healthcare industry has been able to leap forward. Many clinics now have Apps that give patients access to information, such as: when the doctor will be in the office; how long the wait will be in the ER; possible diagnoses of medical disorders; billing information; and future appointments. Some healthcare practitioners have gone one step further and even offer teleconferencing for patients who are not able to make it to their appointments.
The current strengthening of the patient-physician relationship is further evidenced by the fact that doctors are now encouraging patients to play a greater role in their healthcare and make informed decisions. Shared decision making is now a universal theme in many healthcare institutions. Patient portals can help patients better manage their chronic disorders like diabetes, arthritis, asthma or hypertension. More importantly, this method of engaging patients allows for faster responses from healthcare workers, who now have dedicated staff to answer mobiles phone queries from patients. For example, pharmacists are now able to use mobile technology to help patients better manage their medications, by recording their intake and advising the patients on how to avoid drug interactions.
With the rise of electronic technology, many patients now have most of their medical information, such as medical history and list of medication, stored on their mobile devices which makes it easier to share with healthcare workers when necessary. This dynamic flow of information not only streamlines care, but also fosters continuous and consistent care between the patient and physician. An example of this continuous care may be found in software programs that identify patients in need of particular services, such as annual mammograms, pap smears and chest x-rays. Once these patients are identified, the healthcare workers are able to contact them right away to advise the patient of their specific required medical service, while the software system assists in preventing missed appointments by sending reminders.
Notwithstanding the above, however, patient engagement via use of electronic technology is not without problems. The first and foremost problem is security. Mobile phones routinely get misplaced or stolen and the medical data could easily fall into wrong hands. Secondly, the elderly who make up for the majority of patients in the USA are not usually tech savvy, with very few of them using such mobile devices. Even those who do have a mobile phone are not well versed with Apps or retrieving medical information online.
Additionally, in order for mobile devices to be effective for patient engagement, the healthcare workers need to be efficient in supporting the technology to capitalize on its potential benefits. Even today, one of the most common complaints made by patients is that healthcare providers often times do not return phone calls in a timely manner or even at all. So in order to engage patients, healthcare workers also need to be play an active role. Just sending medical information to a mobile device is not what patients want.
No matter how advanced technology has become, patient engagement via electronic means will never replace the soothing voice or touch of a healthcare provider in the office. It is clear that patient engagement is vital for a successful physician-patient relationship. In fact, there is strong evidence that patients who participate actively in their own care have better medical outcomes and fruitful relationships with their healthcare provider. However, it is important to remember that patient engagement is a two way street. Electronic technology can do wonders for healthcare providers and healthcare institutions, but make no mistake, it can also become a detriment very quickly if not applied and supported adequately. In essence, healthcare providers must remember that current electronic technology can only serve as an assisting tool in managing patients – it cannot act as the healthcare provider itself.
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