Patient Engagement: Lessons from mHealth Adolescence
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Global healthcare systems are facing some of their greatest challenges in history as the world’s population grows at a rate faster than ever before. In the UK alone, population growth is expected to increase by over 5% by 2027, with the number of people aged 85 and above set to double in the next 25 years.
In addition to these demographic challenges, healthcare systems are also increasingly confronted with breakthroughs in the treatment and management of health conditions and changes to levels of patient need. In the quest to develop effective systems which meet future healthcare demands, the role that patients play in their own care has become paramount.
Digital solutions clearly have a significant role to play in reshaping how healthcare services are delivered, and with over 300,000 healthcare apps now available you’d be forgiven for assuming that we’re well into our stride now in the digital health revolution. In reality, the mHealth industry is still very much in early adolescence, and maintaining sufficient patient engagement levels – imperative to the success of any patient care solution – remains the holy grail of patient-orientated health tech.
So whilst the braces are still on the teeth of the mHealth market, what key lessons on patient engagement can we take away so far?
The Diamond of Health
Patient engagement is not a one-dimensional challenge. For patient-focused digital solutions to be successful, engagement must be viewed as a multi-faceted opportunity which will only shine brightly when all of its needs have been addressed.
1. Ensure tech muscle is flexed on the right problem
Many companies fighting for a piece of the $23bn mHealth pie consistently focus on the tech first, problem second. As a result, we have an expanding graveyard of field-of-dreams solutions which are technically brilliant yet overwhelmingly complicated and impossible for patients to use.
What are the end user needs? What’s the broader context surrounding the problem? Most importantly, how will the solution integrate into the users’ lives? No matter how clever a solution is, if it doesn’t fit with the user’s daily life they won’t engage with it.
2. Multi-stakeholder needs within healthcare must be addressed
Whilst understanding the needs of the patient end user is imperative, health tech solutions aimed at the medical market will be primarily purchased not by the end user but by senior executives within the provider organisation. Failure to meet both the needs of healthcare businesses and health practitioners results in many well thought out solutions never making it into the patient’s hands.
A 2017 study published by the BMJ found that barriers to patient engagement at the provider level included “negative beliefs and attitudes about patient roles and input, lack of knowledge and skills, provider dysfunction and hierarchies, and uncertainty about how to resolve differences between patient and senior management priorities.”
Research overwhelmingly points to senior healthcare leaders seeing the need to utilise digital healthcare solutions to improve patient care. However, the exuberance of our health tech innovations must be tempered with the here and now reality of the systems, processes and experiences of those at the coalface of healthcare. Health tech innovators must win over the hearts and minds of those controlling the purse strings of healthcare budgets by demonstrating that the needs and limitations of the existing organisational processes and systems have been considered and thought out.
Does the solution burden already busy doctors, or does it integrate effectively into their usual interfaces? How are patients onboarded? Does the technology support seamless integration with existing care processes?
3. Patient activation and engagement are not the same
It makes sense to ensure we’re using effective UX/UI to engage patients when they use digital health platforms, but that assumes an existing level of patient willingness to engage in their own health management to begin with.
Digital adoption takes time, and digital patient engagement is not an overnight success story. Successful patient engagement solutions must allow digital and manual processes to co-exist throughout the adoption period, whilst being smart enough to avoid process duplication.
Patient activation considers the engagement levels of patients in the areas of preventive behaviours, treatment self-management and personal healthy behaviours, all of which have significant positive impacts on individual health outcomes. Individual levels of patient activation vary depending on a multitude of factors, ranging from socio-economic drivers to age to the current stage of health problems faced. Whilst health tech providers cannot solve all of these challenges independently, effective digital solutions can contribute to improving patient activation levels when patient education needs are met. With targeted, reliable, relevant and interactive content, health tech providers can help practitioners to significantly improve patient activation in the growing focus area of health self-management.