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If it's not relevant, easy-and yes-delightful, the opportunity to engage with the patient is lost.
Last July, the head of the largest payer in U.S. healthcare, CMS Administrator Seema Verma, suggested that the agency’s digital data effort (MyHealthEData) is “driving a new era of digital health, one that will unleash data to trigger innovation and advance research.”
Now, in 2019, the question is: What works and how do we prove it?
Studies have substantiated the efficacy of both email and text messaging in improving patient engagement and outcomes:
Yet few studies have shown statistical significance and clinical impact. Instead, they focused on how email and text moved the needle. But today, it’s not solely about message type-be it text, email, mobile app, or web portal. It’s about smart, fresh, factual, multimedia content delivered in real-time at the right time. If it’s not relevant, easy-and yes-delightful, the patient is GONE! There are few second chances.
In 2018, we conducted a quasi-experimental study with a four-hospital system in the Midwest. We examined the use of a two-way digital engagement program and its impact on outcomes for total joint replacement patients-a critical population because these surgeries represent a tsunami of healthcare costs for Americans. Email and text messages were delivered to patients before, during, and after their hospital stay. We looked at engagement with the educational messages and outcomes regarding day of surgery cancellation, length of stay (LOS), discharge destination, emergency department (ED) use, and 30-day readmission.
What we found:
- 25 percent of a day reduction in LOS for hip patients; 13 percent for knee patients
- 50 percent reduction in ED visits by hip patients who were highly engaged (opening ≥50 percent of the messages)
• Early identification of at-risk patients
- High engagement correlated with lower risk, enabling hospitals to target more support to low engagers
• Equally high engagement across insurance types
- 71 percent of patients were highly engaged
- Results were unrelated to insurance type-i.e., public (Medicare/Medicaid) vs. private.
Replicating these kind of results requires diligence in examining the how, as well as the what of patient engagement initiatives.
These are the things that make a difference in patient engagement and create opportunities to statistically substantiate that digital connections, sustained over time, do in fact improve outcomes, increase capacity for hospitals, and save time and money.
Betsy Weaver, Ed.D., is the co-founder, CEO and president of TPR Media LLC (d.b.a, UbiCare), an innovative, patient engagement company providing Internet-based healthcare content through a unique, proprietary platform. Weaver holds a master’s in education and a doctorate in social policy and trend analysis from Harvard University.