In 2021, the topic of patient engagement solutions in the healthcare remains important. Industry leaders and researchers commonly agree that enhancing patient engagement is a direct way to increase patient experience and satisfaction, reduce the cost of care and improve the health of populations in general.
However, the problem of insufficient patient engagement is still standing. Low medication adherence and patient activation, lack of health and social care availability in certain areas as well as relevant disease and treatment information, doctor-to-patient communication gaps are just the major reasons of the daunting reality.
In this paper, we unfold the issues and demonstrate what efforts healthcare foundations, associations, industry leadership and technology innovators make to enhance patient engagement.
First, let’s find out what hampers patient engagement efforts.
Patient activation in care process – participation and interest – directly determine further engagement. Usually, patient activation is reflected in the adoption of patient engagement solutions: self-tracking tools and medication managers, access to patient portals and EHR, attempt to share patient data such as health history, symptoms and medication effects with authorized entities – doctors, foundations, researchers.
Even though the rate of healthcare tools adoption is relatively high, the numbers in Accenture research show patients are much more confident with simpler diet and nutrition apps than medication managers and chronic disease trackers.
At the same time, patients are eager to engage in healthcare and get access to their EHR, share medical app and wearable data with their HCPs (up to 90%, Accenture) and use patient portals. However, EHR tools are commonly focused on doctors rather than patients. Current generation of patient portals often fails to address user needs in terms of usability, adaptive interface and intuitiveness. And collected patient data remains locked in digital tools due to strict HIPAA regulations.
The market of patient engagement solutions is growing. More medical apps appear in patients' phones, more wearables end up on people’s wrists or belts.
Despite being perfectly UI/UX designed, the majority of modern apps lack the sense of time and space. Designers and engineers do consider behavioral and schedule preferences of an average app user – wake-up time, working hours, work-out itinerary – and adjust pings and notifications respectively. However, as everyone’s schedule is different, the lack of in-app personalization in terms of when to ping and what device to use to send notifications in a specific case results in low user response. Hence, low patient engagement in the long run.
Personalization matters not only when it comes to the right place and the right time. Standard mHealth, say apps for appointment scheduling, medication intake monitoring, symptom tracking, are easy, for an average user. Despite the simplicity and user-friendliness, the majority of existing digital tools lack personalization and fail to address the needs and requirements of different categories of patients.
Rarely do common one-task apps adjust to user’s technical skills or abilities. As a result, certain target audience, for example the elderly, people with learning difficulties, special needs or disabilities end up unable to use seemingly simple mHealth apps.
The gap between patient needs and healthcare capabilities remains despite the development in eHealth, telemedicine, successful deployment of mHealth solutions and better reach to healthcare in rural and underrepresented regions.
On one side, this gap is most visible in the way we use - rather fail to use - patient data. Today, healthcare collects massive volume of patient data from health records to real-time data raked by personal wearables and smartphones. However, doctors, researchers and associations get access and can use only a fraction of this data. The rest stays in silos and never turns into actionable insights - remains locked either in paper-based records or unavailable due to strict and highly regulated data policies. As a result, healthcare providers don't get the best of patient data - timely access, fuller picture, dynamics. This leads to poorer quality and even delayed care experience.
On the other side, patients have to deal with overwhelming data. Often, they get lost and frustrated addressing their health queries to unfiltered, non-verified health information available online or in abundant eHealth products. Lack of social responsibility behind many of these sources sometimes leads to a negative outcome. Patients make poor choices and result in unsuccessful care experience, to say the least.
Read: Leveraging big data
Here are three examples of successful mHealth tools focused on improving patient engagement:
Focus on Lymphoma built for Lymphoma Research Foundation is the example of a modern mHealth tool focused on improving patient engagement. This award-winning app was designed and engineered to get over the major reasons of low patient engagement and ensure strong adoption and endorsement rate.
Case Study: Chronic disease management software development
MSD ChemoDiary app is focused on increasing patient engagement and awareness among people who go through chemotherapy and endure various side effects of this treatment.
Case Study: Medication calendar app development
How Do I is an award-winning app for people with learning difficulties, mental disabilities, dementia and brain injuries. It was built to help people with special needs overcome cognitive and memory difficulties, learn how to use everyday objects and develop skills for a more independent and quality living. Moreover, the app helps enhance people's capabilities and self-esteem.
How Do I app relies on recognition technology and simple gamification elements. The system identifies NFC labels placed on everyday objects and shows contextual instructional videos on how to implement simple tasks with these objects, such as making a cup of tea or folding clothes.
The design and concept of this app reflect the image of a successful mHealth solution for a specific category of patients. It combines the benefits of a simple, intuitive interface tailored to the requirements of a certain audience and a dynamic, engaging user experience that encourages patients to get back to the app again and again and develop new skills for a better future.
Case Study: Patient adherence app development
The development of patient engagement solutions like How Do I is crucial. Today, mental healthcare experiences the greatest gaps in diagnosis, treatment and services. Only 35-50% of patients with mental disorders receive at least some basic treatment. This is in high-income countries. Low and middle-income states record the shocking rate of 76-85%.
The Next-generation of custom patient engagement solutions combines the power of mobile apps and highly intuitive chatbots for patients. This synergy allows combating the major causes of insufficient patient engagement.
Complex algorithms behind mobile apps provide an unrivaled level of content and user experience personalization. Chatbots and voice assistants perform conversation-based collection of patient symptom and medication intake records and transfer this data for further analysis. Integrating the capabilities of apps, bots, voice assistants and wearables, these eHealth tools enable smart reminders and alerts that guarantee to reach the target in the right place, time and on the right device. Moreover, these tools use gamification elements to motivate patients to adhere to their medication, self-educate on their disease and conditions and maintain connections with doctors and caregivers.
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