By Will Owen
TKG explores the utility of new technology tools in promoting patient engagement, citing survey data from the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). After both benefits and drawbacks of tech innovation are analyzed, TKG ultimately concludes that such solutions must be tailored to a patient’s technological fluency.
Technology’s expanding role in our lives has elicited ceaseless debate (and innumerable think pieces) over the past decade, especially as it relates to how we communicate with one another in an increasingly connected world. As the American healthcare landscape shifts from volume to value, patient engagement via technology tools has also become a pivotal arena for this discussion. New tech-based tools like apps for smartphones, wearables, web-based interactive programs, and texting for appointment and medication reminders are increasingly utilized to link providers and patients. Tech enthusiasts assert that such methods help patients practice greater accountability for their own healthcare while also receiving regular support from providers and third party information sources. Skeptics, on the other hand, cite high costs and lack of technological fluency among patients as critical reasons to stick to more orthodox methods of patient engagement.
In “Patient Engagement Survey: Technology Tools Gain Support – But Cost Is a Hurdle,” the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) provides insights from health executives, clinical leaders, and clinicians from across the country on the utility of technology tools in healthcare. The NEJM collected feedback on the top benefits of using technology for patient engagement and the critical barriers to its adoption. The survey yielded promising results for the use of technology from providers, and concluded with the need to tailor these technologies to patient engagement levels.
The Benefits of Using Technology for Patient Engagement
The NEJM survey results revealed strong prioritization of patient centricity in the use of technology. Among the 595 respondents, 67% chose increased support for patients in their efforts to be healthy as the top benefit of technology, while 60% chose greater input to providers on how patients are doing when not in the clinic. Respondents overwhelmingly ranked chronic disease management (81%) as best suited for the incorporation of technology tools, followed by support for medication adherence (66%), which heavily complements the former. On the other hand, respondents saw technology as least effective in mental health and behavioral health treatment. Respondents ranked biometric measurement devices (eg, wireless scales and glucometers), smartphone apps, and texting for appointment and medication reminders as the most effective technology tools, respectively.
The Drawbacks of Technology Tools
In maintaining a commitment to patient centricity, survey respondents were most concerned that their patients would not have access to technology or be able to effectively use it in their disease management. Across the board, cost was cited as the top barrier to adoption of new technologies for patient engagement, with over half stating that these new methods are not covered by insurance. Other key concerns included lack of integration of technology tools into EMRs and unclear benefits to patients. When asked why they themselves may not recommend technology tools to patients, 67% of providers admitted to not knowing what tool to recommend to specific patients. In addition to cost, many providers are concerned about the level of technological fluency needed to use such products, especially with older patients who are less familiar with smart phones.
Tailoring Tech to Patient Needs
Evangelists on both sides of the technology debate often forget that technology’s greatest gift is freedom of choice, and this does not exclude healthcare. In practicing with greater patient centricity, providers have the choice to use high-tech engagement methods with those patients who respond well to technology and have the means to pay for it. The NEJM concludes with a similar assertion, explaining that “solutions should be based on the population that is served. Just like it might be inappropriate to prescribe a complex application to an elderly patient, it doesn’t make sense to recommend a costly device to a low-income patient who has no health insurance.”
Thus, it is clear from the survey results that there is strong incentive to incorporate technology tools into patient engagement, especially in chronic disease management. Instead of finding this shift intimidating or daunting, providers simply must remember that technology solutions are not “one size fits all,” and can be tailored based on a patient’s level of engagement. Just as no one is forced to share the details of their daily life on Snapchat, no patient should be forced to use an app or interactive program they are not comfortable with or able to afford.