In A World Turned Upside Down by COVID-19, Will Patient Engagement Still Be A Priority In 2021?

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By Jeff Fallon

There has been an uptick in the implementation and usage of patient engagement tools and technology since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and that trend is likely to continue with even greater strength as we look to 2021.  During a time when there has been so much uncertainty, clear factual direction from providers is critical to better patient outcomes. Not only do these tools and technology allow providers to empower their patients to take personal responsibility in their care journeys, but it also delivers clear care direction to all clinicians and administrators. 

However, the pandemic isn’t the only factor influencing the growing interest in patient engagement. Consumerism is driving this interest as well. Though consumerism began decades ago, the internet age and smartphones launched us into hyper-consumerism. Now Americans increasingly expect to have complete access to their health information. This is not surprising as other consumer facing industries have been mastering customer relationships for some time now.  Because of this, patients now expect to have the correct, actionable information fed to their smart devices at the right time. They aren’t satisfied to leave those expectations behind at the healthcare delivery door. In fact, the pandemic has spawned the new phenomenon better known as an “infodemic,” which refers to the COVID-related information and opinion tsunami that has swamped the world in 2020. 

This is unsurprising as the consequences of one’s health knowledge has without a doubt never been so important. (Can we all agree that not contracting a potentially fatal infection is best for every human?) Though to mask or not to mask became a political debate this year, like any debate on health, quality data from credible unbiased sources can foster a deeper understanding of the issues and help to put everyone on the same page. . Due to their education, training, and patient relationships providers have rightly earned the  position of uniquely high trust from their patients. Their guidance supported by clinical facts and delivered with the full gravity of the Hippocratic Oath, can flatten every curve, one patient at a time. The stakes have never been higher in the quest to be informed and to make better health decisions. 

Of course, saving lives is now and shall forever be the name of the healthcare game. But, pandemic or no pandemic, hospitals in 2021 will increasingly adopt healthcare information technology (HIT) solutions to engage their patients. Though the pandemic ignited new digital health urgency, patient engagement and education was already on the rise prior to the current health crisis. Consumers expect an interactive and informed patient experience, rather than being silent participants while care is being “done to them.”  This idea of Shared Decision Making is not new, but the pandemic layered new urgency on the important trend. 

Hospitals employ inpatient engagement solutions because they know that lasting health gains occur when driven by the good decisions of a well-informed patient. They also invest in these HIT solutions because they know this technology has the potential to transform how the healthcare industry’s 1.8 million hospital registered nurses prepare the 36 million hospital-admitted patients for life and recovery after they are discharged.  They’ll employ these tools and technology because of the urgency to spare personal protective equipment and reduce the potential for contamination and spreading infection by maintaining a pandemic-safe distance. Hospitals recognize these realities and take action because bedside patient engagement technology is no longer optional. 

As we look to the new year, the hospitals that rise to the top will be the ones that aspire to be far more engaging than a simple patient portal or mobile portal app. Top performing hospitals will craft powerful digital strategies for the entire campus with carefully chosen contextual information shared at the right place and right time to ensure all who come on site are engaged in keeping with their brand promises so carefully curated. These hospitals will use bedside tablets, electronic whiteboards, digital door signs and other types of smart displays in order to fine-tune the experience of their care delivery. This not only supports their organization’s brand and goals and enhances its relationship with the communities they serve, but ultimately it delivers the best possible patient experiences and outcomes and supports its clinicians by streamlining workflows and health data. These smart devices will make more engaging education possible, in order to influence better health decisions while at a distance, sparing PPE and reducing the risk of infection for all of us. 

Jeff Fallon is CEO of eVideon

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