Is Healthcare Innovating Its Way Back to Patient Engagement?

By Eric Wicklund

Healthcare providers are starting to rethink what being a provider actually means.

Stung by high costs and low reimbursements for acute care, some health systems are shifting their sights to care management and preventive care. And they’re making patient engagement a priority.

“A great deal of our future is in the outpatient side,” Tressa Springman, SVP and chief information and digital officer at LifeBridge Health, a five-hospital system based in Maryland, said during a panel session Tuesday at HIMSS 24.

She noted that more than 50% of the health system’s quality-based reimbursement score for the state is focused on the patient experience, making that more important than actual clinical care. So they’re now setting their sights on access, convenience, and outpatient interactions.

“We’re really focusing on the community,” she said.

Indeed, smaller health systems and hospitals are being forced to change their priorities just to stay in business. Rural hospitals are shutting down or shifting to emergency care centers. Others are closing their Eds and ICUs, referring patients to stand-alone urgent care centers, and looking more closely at a concierge care strategy.

The HIMSS24 panel, titled “Moving Beyond EHR Engagement: Deploy Consumer-Centric Strategies That Truly Empower Communities,” took a closer look at how providers are making engagement work. They’re listening more to their patients, embracing remote patient monitoring, virtual care, wearables and home-based services, and targeting care management and coordination.

“We want to know more about our patients,” said Eric Alper, MD, vice president, chief quality officer and chief clinical informatics officer at UMass Memorial Health. “The Joint Commission and CMS are actually [demanding] it.”

This strategy isn’t without its challenges. As the title of the session implies, a lot of the information providers need isn’t found in the EHR, and so health systems and hospitals are investing in bolt-on technologies and programs, weaving care in and out of the medical record. They’re paying more attention to social determinants of health (SDOH), and fashioning programs that revolve around the patient’s preferences and needs.

Michael Garcia, vice president and chief information officer at the Miami-based Jackson Health System, noted that his health system is making more of an effort to tailor healthcare to patients who typically have trouble accessing care. At Jackson Health, that includes significant numbers of homeless people, undocumented immigrants, and people who are either incarcerated or recently released from prison.

That strategy is based on necessity. If the health system doesn’t reach out and provide care when and where they need it, he said, those patients will end up in Jackson Health’s already-overcrowded Emergency Department.

Then again, today’s consumers aren’t looking for a cookie-cutter approach to engagement.

“The ordinary person doesn’t care how much scale you have in your organization,” O’Neil pointed out.

Springman noted that disruptors are making the primary care space very competitive, and it’s difficult for providers to match what Amazon, Walmart, and others are offering. Somewhat ironically, that’s forcing providers to re-engage with their patients, establishing new relationships that technology has for the past few years interrupted.

“We actually are investing much more in well care than in sick care,” she said.

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.