Brad McCarty • July 26, 2019

Over the past few years, the term ”patient engagement” has risen in popularity. As payers continue their march toward pay-for-performance models, providers are looking for every advantage. Patient engagement is somewhat of a catch-all phrase that encompasses everything from medication compliance to self-service appointment scheduling (and all points in between). As such, we are seeing a wealth of upstart companies hoping to provide better outcomes for patients and providers.

What Is (And Isn’t) Patient Engagement?

As stated in the introduction, patient engagement is a big umbrella under which many activities will fall. But we should take a look at the existing players in the space to help us narrow things down somewhat. What we found is that two factors have to exist in order for an activity to fall under patient engagement:

  1. The activity must involve both the patient and the provider. Think of a conversation, not a broadcast.
  2. The activity must work toward accountability or understanding.

HIMSS defines patient engagement as “providers and patients working together to improve health.” As a collaboration focused on health information, HIMSS then goes on to define patient engagement through that lens. Everything from text messaging to wearables falls into this category for HIMMS, and much of the talk about patient engagement relies on technology for its success.

The World Health Organization shows one of its focuses on primary care as an area where patient engagement holds promise. As such, WHO tends to start on a more in-person level for engagement. The organization encourages surveys, focus groups, and informal online feedback in order to facilitate mutual accountability and understanding between the patient and the provider.

Conversely, it’s important to note that some other areas of major focus will not fall under patient engagement. EMRs, for example, are not in place to help the patient understand or to make them accountable. Likewise, outreach does not qualify as patient engagement. It is a function of marketing. As such, it does have its own potential for positive outcomes, but again, it lacks the qualifier of patient understanding or accountability.

A Focus on Quality

As much as we would all like to say that every interaction is a quality interaction, that is simply not true. Physicians today have less time to spend with patients, and they have more patients to see with an aging population. Patient engagement is not the entire answer to these problems, but it is an important part of the puzzle.

Letting the market help to guide our vision for patient engagement, we can see areas that are already getting attention. A recent acquisition by Philips aims to help hospitals communicate with patients. The company bought Medumo, which uses texts and emails to communicate with patients about their procedures, with the goals of better compliance and fewer missed appointments.

Hospital conglomerate Banner Health also made news recently. The group has deployed chatbots, powered by LifeLink, in 28 of its emergency rooms. The bots use HIPAA-compliant messaging to inform the patient about their visit, while also feeding submitted information into the hospital’s EMR. The company reports high adoption rates of the chatbots, and improved patient satisfaction ratings across the board for those who use them.

These are just two examples of how patient engagement, with a focus on quality, is moving the needle in today’s market. But a cursory glance at acquisitions headlines shows that the segment is gathering much-deserved attention. By focusing on better patient outcomes, and improved quality metrics, patient engagement has found its niche in today’s healthcare.

Points to Ponder

As we discussed in our recent article on finding success with a medical device company, having predicates and guides is critical. Can the same be said for patient engagement? What areas of expertise are most important for finding success in the segment? What can we learn from the failures in the direct-to-consumer healthcare segment?

How do we overcome patient privacy concerns? It’s safe to say that even most healthcare providers don’t have a full understanding of HIPAA. How can we expect a patient to be more (or even equally) informed? What What areas contain potential pitfalls that must be avoided?

For the healthcare investor, there is an opportunity for faster liquidity than in some other areas. Will we see traditional private equity money being driven into this segment, since it avoids some of the timing concerns that are so relevant with other forms of healthcare innovation?

We will revisit these questions, and more, in an upcoming blog post. For now, we’d love to read what you have to say. Post your thoughts to your AngelMD profile, with the #PEAMD hashtag.

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