Are Clinicians the Biggest Barrier to Patient Technologies?

Two Myths Holding Back Adoption of Health Technologies

 

The use of technology in healthcare today is increasing at a rapid rate but it may not be increasing as fast as it could be.  For years patients have been able to search their condition online and get information regarding their condition, however, this information may not always be correct. In today’s world with all of the information that is shared online it is important that patients are getting the correct information in order to improve their health. The only way to help control this is for healthcare providers to supply their patients with a way to access information at home that is relevant, correct and information that enhances the patient’s care.  Health information technology is on the rise and it is important for improving patient engagement and patient outcomes.  In some patient populations there are myths surrounding their ability to access information which may be holding some healthcare workers back from using technology with these populations.

There are several myths surrounding patient engagement and the use of technology.  One of the myths is that elderly patients won’t use technology and the other myth is that lower income patients won’t be able to access online information. Both of these myths may be holding the healthcare profession back from making technology an integral part of patient care which will impact patient engagement overall in these populations and others.

Myth #1: Senior citizens can’t or won’t use technology to manage their health

In an AMA study, patients over 65 adopted portals at a greater rate than patients aged 18-35. Internet use between 2000 and 2012 tripled for those 65 and older and doubled among those 50 to 64 years old.  83% of U.S. seniors think that they should have full access to their electronic health records but only 28% actually do.  These statistics prove that seniors want more access to their health records and that if given the opportunity they would use technology more to supplement the care that they receive in the office.  If we as healthcare providers just assume that the senior population will not use technology then we are doing a disservice to not only our patients but to ourselves.  If seniors are willing and eager to use technology then we should be providing information in that format so that they have more access to relevant correct information that may improve their care.  For example, if a physical therapist assumes that a patient will not access an online home program then they may only provide a written copy.  If the patient only has a sheet of paper with written instructions and a picture of the exercise they may either do the exercises incorrectly or they may not feel as engaged in what they need to do at home and may not do the program at all.  If that same patient was also provided an online portal where they could watch videos of the exercises, it may increase their engagement in their home program compliance and may also improve the accuracy of the exercises being performed.  This will ultimately improve patient outcomes and decrease cost of care.  Patient taking a more active role in their care then the will reach their outcomes faster which may decrease the number of visits needed in the office and may decrease the overall cost of their medical care. This is especially important in the senior population if they have Medicare which limits the amount of visits a patient can have per year.  We could even take this thought process a step further and think about if this patient also had a way to interact with their therapist while at home through email or through a patient portal.  A patient portal will only increase the patient’s engagement and improve their compliance with home activities by providing direct communication with their healthcare provider.

Myth 2: Lower income patients won’t be able to access their online health information

A recently published study that reported that a large majority of low income, underserved, and safety net patients want to communicate with their providers using email, text messaging, and online patient portals despite the perception that lower income populations lack access to reliable internet connections.  In fact, 60% of lower income patients in the study reported using email regularly, 54% said they obtained general research information from the internet, and 78% expressed interest in electronic communications with healthcare providers.  If we as healthcare providers again make an assumption that we should not provide electronic information to our underserved populations because they won’t have access is a disservice to this patient population. If people are online searching for information about their medical conditions anyway then we as healthcare providers need to provide a way for our underserved patients to access relevant and correct information.   There are many people that may not have internet in their homes; however, many patients that are low income do have access to cell phones which is how they are accessing their online information.  There is also the option to provide free patient portals to access health information technology.   Digital disparities do exist among racial and ethnic minorities, the physically disabled, lower-income, and those with limited English proficiency. But used with appropriate outreach strategies, health information technology such as patient portals can offer important tools to improve the quality and efficiency of care across at-risk and traditionally underserved populations. It is important to get the correct and relevant information to the patients and not just assume that they would not use this type of technology because it is often assumed that this population will not have access.

 

Where to Start - Easy Solutions for Integrating Technology into Patient Care

Technology can help enhance all patient care experience not just the elderly or the underserved populations.  Choosing the right technology and services to provide patients is key to having successful patient engagement.  There are several ways to use technology to get information out to patients.  A patient experience can be enhanced by just providing a patient portal that can allow patient-provider communication and allow patients to check results, review their medical record and view education materials.  A patient portal can also allow patients to feel like they can ask questions at any time via email or messaging versus waiting for the office to open to ask questions. It may improve communication by improving access to the health-care provider.  In terms of providing educational materials the portals can be a place where the provider uploads educational materials regarding their condition, instructs patient in home activities or exercises and can even be a way for the patient to keep track of what they are doing at home.  When thinking of the physical therapy world it could be a place where an exercise tracker is kept so that the patient can mark when they have done an exercise and the clinician can keep tabs on what the patient is doing at home. It may not only allow communication from the patient to the therapist but it may be a great place for the therapist to send additional information to the patient on days when the patient is not attending therapy.  The use of instructional videos can be very helpful in ensuring that a patient is doing an exercise correctly.  The use of a patient portal may also be helpful for the patients that are more introverted whom may not call and ask a question but that may feel more comfortable writing a message to their therapist or provider.

 

The use of technology in healthcare can help to empower patients to become collaborators in their care.  Patients who are seeking out information and knowledge are the patients that are engaged in their care and trying to do everything they can to get better.  The best type of information for patients is the correct information. If patients, whether it be the elderly population or the underserved populations are seeking out information, it is best that they are getting information that will improve their condition. If people are already using technology to enhance their knowledge base about their condition is it is best to provide patients with information that will truly improve their health.  Patient’s that are more engaged in their care will likely have better outcomes.  If a patient feels like they can access their health information and that they can ask questions and get responses in a timely manner then they may be more engaged in their care. If the elderly patient who is at home by themselves trying to figure out how to do an exercise can watch a video and have more confidence that they are doing it correctly then they will likely be more compliant with their home program.  If that same elderly patient is at home by themselves trying to figure out how to do an exercise and all they have is a piece of paper with a picture and written instructions and they still just don’t quite understand, that patient may just not try to perform this exercise.  The patient who doesn’t try to do the exercise may be an engaged patient but they may just be afraid of doing the exercise wrong. If all it takes to improve patient compliance and patient engagement is to provide a simple 30 second video of an exercise then everyone should be given access to that type of information.

 

All in all, patient engagement and compliance can be enhanced by the use of technology. Don’t ever assume that a population of people would prefer not to use technology. Give every patient access to information and you may be surprised by the impact it creates.