The New Rules of Patient Engagement

May 19, 2011

A recent survey found ... that 8 in 10 Internet users look online for health information - making it the third most popular online activity, behind only e-mail and using a search engine. This may surprise the general public, but I have a feeling this isn’t news to you. It wasn’t to me either.

I was recently reading a survey from the Pew Research Center, which found that 8 in 10 Internet users look online for health information - making it the third most popular online activity, behind only e-mail and using a search engine. This may surprise the general public, but I have a feeling this isn’t news to you. It wasn’t to me either. 

After all, this is part of a larger trend of consumers wanting information at their fingertips at all times. In today’s Web 2.0 world, new technologies have changed people’s expectations and they are getting used to a constant stream of information delivered straight to their smart phone or e-mail.

This carries over to healthcare, too.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers report last fall found that 41 percent of patients today would prefer to have more of their care delivered via a mobile device (for more on this report, see this recent article). People still use doctors as the first source for health information, but an annual visit to the doctor just isn’t enough anymore.

Today’s patients want to receive information and interact with their care team on an ongoing basis - receiving text reminders to take their medication or tracking their progress meeting health goals through an online patient portal. At the same time, we know that if we want to help patients on the road to health and keep them from becoming another chronic illness statistic, we need to provide them with guidance more than once a year.

This new trend is changing the rules of engaging with patients. It is offering a new set of opportunities to meet patients where they already are and in a way that fits their lifestyle, ultimately helping to drive healthier behavior and improved outcomes.

Using technology to engage with patients has the potential to benefit more than just patients. Almost half of the physicians surveyed in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report said that they could eliminate 11 percent to 30 percent of office visits through the use of technology, including remote monitoring, e-mail or text messaging with patients. From my own time practicing cardiology at St. Luke-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, I know how pressed doctors are for time, and this has only gotten worse over the years. Setting up technology that enables patient interaction can help improve office efficiency, giving doctors more time to spend with the patients who need it.

As healthcare in the U.S. changes and patients are increasingly held more accountable for their health, doctors that are able to successfully engage, educate and motivate patients will be the most successful.

Gregory Steinberg, MD, is a cardiologist and internist who previously served as the associate director of medicine and director of clinical education at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York. He is an associate clinical professor of Medicine at Columbia University and a senior attending emeritus at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center (SLRHC) in New York City. He currently serves as CEO and president of ActiveHealth Management. E-mail him here.