Going digital to improve patient engagement


Originally published on http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/, written by Pem Guerry and Sam Johnson.

Mobile technology is far from a new concept for the healthcare industry, but its adoption is now accelerating at a rapid-fire pace.

In almost every respect, hospitals and providers are going digital. Clinical spending on mobility is expected to reach $5.4 billion this year, according to an IDC Health Insights report.

Mobile technology is carving out its relevancy—and necessity even—in healthcare administration, too. From electronic health records, to cloud-based check-in systems, to paperless form management platforms and electronic signatures, back-office digital advancements are turning hospitals and physician practices into more efficient organizations providing better experiences for patients.

Consider that today, mobile technology can allow a patient to:

  • Receive an appointment alert on a mobile device;
  • Fill out healthcare forms and documents online;
  • Sign forms and documents electronically;
  • Receive an electronic prescription sent via a physician’s mobile phone;
  • Access lab results;
  • View medical images;
  • Access health information stored via an electronic health record management system;
  • And many other things.

We’ve come a long way from clipboards and couriers.

Mobility and patient engagement

The mobile device market has matured to near ubiquitous levels in recent years. Smartphones are the standard, not a luxury—and more than two-thirds of Americans currently have them, according to data compiled by Pew Research. So as patients consume instantaneous information and process transactions almost anywhere they are, anytime they please, that expectation naturally bleeds into the healthcare system—as it does almost every industry.

With technology at the helm of society, patients aren’t looking for passive and prolonged healthcare experiences. They’re seeking ways that digital technology can expedite and improve health-related decision-making and care.

It’s not going unnoticed. The industry is pining for improved engagement with patients, and providers know that technology will fuel progress. It will also enhance the patient experience, which is the leading reason that healthcare service providers invest in mobile healthcare, according to VDC Research.

Mobile apps and digital communication systems are obvious conduits for improved patient engagement. And, from clerical matters to clinical care, mobile administrative tools can improve the flow of communication and allow clinicians to spend more time with patients.

For example, the process of simply filling out and signing forms electronically, or of checking in to an appointment before seeing a staff member at a registration desk, means patients spend less time in the waiting room, less time filling out paperwork and more time with doctors and nurses—who spend less time on data entry, scanning and uploading. Cases like these can also increase patient portal use because e-signed documents can be stored and accessed through secure online patient websites. Information, documents, health summaries and more are available 24-hours a day for patient use and reference.

Making mobility work for the patient and the provider

Mobility is becoming mainstream for the sake of patient engagement, but healthcare’s urgency to protect health and information privacy by law can make its secure adoption a challenging feat.

Providers adopting or scaling mobility programs must consider two key areas of responsible use:


In healthcare, there are important compliance regulations that must be met when a technology is introduced, with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) being chief among them. From wireless networks that hospitals and providers install to support device mobility, to the technology that protects digital documents, electronic health records (EHRs) and digital transactions in the cloud or on-site, there must be safeguards in place to ensure that health information and data is strongly protected.

Sometimes, compliance isn’t black and white. Organizations must often scrutinize the intent of regulations to ensure their mobility platforms are compliant—especially when it comes to mobile document processing. For instance, HIPAA does not mandate a specific type of electronic signature technology for documents with patient health information, but to fully protect data privacy, e-signed documents should comply with all other relevant laws guiding the technology, such as the Federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act and the state Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). Further, they should ensure message integrity (meaning messages have not been changed in transit) and non-repudiation (the assurance that a signature cannot be denied).

Other key security measures that support HIPAA compliance and data protection include a strong identity authentication system, such as using at least two factors of identity authentication to make sure only the right people can access information, and considering ownership and control of documents. When cloud-based technology is involved, digital documents may be present on different servers at different times—yours, your vendor’s and perhaps a cloud service provider’s. Look for processes that allow you to minimize the number of copies of PHI-laden documents so that, ideally, PHI documents only exist on your server.

Likewise, vetting the security and privacy measures of any third-party provider is just as important as enhancing your own.

Organizational adoption

Though mobility is advancing nearly every aspect of society, it can be difficult for entire hospitals, healthcare systems and patient networks to actually use new technologies. After all, mobility programs, such as digital patient check-in systems or app-based imaging, could change processes that have been firmly established for decades.

The power of staff and patient buy-in can’t be underestimated, so it’s essential to make such programs easy to use, easy to understand and easy to trust. This can begin with:

• Integration. In most cases, mobile technology isn’t isolated. Usually, there are several different software elements at work—digital applications, patient portals, e-signatures, electronic billing, document management platforms, etc. The more that these technologies can speak to one another and work together through integration and automatic workflows that don’t require users to jump from software platform to software platform, the easier it typically is for staff and patients to adopt the technology.

• Cohesive branding. Similarly, cohesive branding for mobile technologies is also important—especially for patient adoption. Patients understand the vulnerability of health information, as well as personal and financial information, so the more that mobile technologies can take on the characteristics of a health provider’s brand, the more likely it is that patients will trust and use a new digital program.

• Pilot programs. Small-scale pilot programs allow providers to test mobile technology initiatives in a more controlled and observable environment. Pilots give providers the opportunities to get staff and patient feedback and then to make necessary changes before scaling the program to a wider audience. This prevents large-scale kinks that could derail a high user adoption rate.


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