The way patients interact with their health-care providers is constantly evolving. The increasing use of patient portals, email, digital recordkeeping, text messages and mobile apps keeps patients involved in their health care.
This is known as patient engagement. It’s when doctors and providers hand over information about a patient’s health, and the patient, in turn, uses it to actively participate in his or her care.
The way that patient engagement is enabled currently is through health informatics. The term refers to the creation and implementation of information-technology systems used to plan, manage, and deliver health care.1
Why patient engagement matters
Patient engagement needs to happen both face to face and electronically through health informatics. The benefits of patients having their health information in the palms of their hands are endless, and affect both patients and their providers.
If a patient goes to a health care provider for treatment for a cold, the provider can follow up by sending the patient messages on how to take care of himself or herself through the patient portal. Arrangements can be made for sending alerts to the patient’s phone when he or she has to take medicine or have another office visit for further care.2
On the provider side, if patients are engaged, the quality of care will improve and the savings on resources and workers’ time will become apparent.3
Health informatics can be used in one-on-one care, clinical studies, and group research.
When the latest Ebola crisis took place in 2014, Texas Health Resources was the first U.S health system to be exposed to the disease.4 Although the institution had the tools to make a proper diagnosis, the clinical documentation was inaccurate. Doctors had different information than the nurses did on patients, and there was no reconciliation of data points on the records.
Texas Health Resources ended up going into its electronic health records system and update how the entry process worked. New documentation procedures were put in place like travel information being recorded upon a patient’s arrival to the emergency department. New processes were also implemented; if patients had gone to any affected countries, an alert was placed on their records, along with questions to ask patients, and steps to take if the screening was positive.
At that point of care, patients could learn right away why they were feeling sick, and doctors and nurses could take direct action for treatment. Thus, making the disease containable before it could spread.
In another example of how patient engagement and health informatics work, a woman went to the doctor after experiencing pain, numbness, and weakness.5 She went in for an MRI; and a day later, she was given a computer file containing the radiologist’s report and the MRI images.
Many times, patients will receive their results in the neurosurgeon’s office. Since the woman was shown her records ahead of time, she was able to process the information, research answers to any questions she had, and go in with a clear head to hear her treatment options. By having medical outcomes early in conjunction with communication with her physician, the woman was able to overcome her initial shock and focus on recovery options. While patients are gaining more access to their own records, researchers are using the tools of data analytics to investigate impact of early patient access to data on outcomes.
The health IT industry is changing rapidly. It’s important for health-care providers to stay on the cutting edge to give their patients the best care possible.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a healthcare informaticist, visit The University of Scranton’s Masters of Science in Health Informatics program page.