Chris Belmont, Vice President and CIO of Memorial Hospital at Gulfport in Mississippi, discussed the importance of taking a strategic, integrated, and hospital-wide approach to patient engagement and how the healthcare information technology team can contribute to planning and governance in a webinar, presented by the Scottsdale Institute and sponsored by Wolters Kluwer, titled, “Patient Engagement as a Strategic Initiative: Better Outcomes for All.”
Patient engagement software vendors will “walk in and say, ‘My solution solves world hunger,’” Belmont jokes. “Just go with this solution and patient engagement magically happens. But that’s not the complete story.” Rather, Belmont says, it is up to the CIO and their team to find solutions that are “relevant and valuable to the organization, but most importantly, to our patients. So, I’m looking for the partnerships out there: the ones that can not just sell me things, but participate in my strategic vision.”
The importance of engaging patients on their own terms
There is a “delicate balance” Belmont explains in the webinar, between proactively reaching out to patients and “not over-engaging with them.” The key is finding ways to “engage with them on their own terms,” he says.
“We need to demystify healthcare as we grow up,” Belmont says, noting that, historically, patients were “trained to just listen somewhat blindly to what our providers and our doctors and our hospitals have told us.” But now, Belmont explains, patients on the whole are a more-informed consumer base with access to a variety of different information resources, and they demand to be more involved in their care. Health systems and providers have to realign their approach to engage patients on a “healthcare journey,” Belmont says, “but how do you make that journey through their healthcare less of a mystery, less of a scavenger hunt, and make it more engaging?”
Looking at the big picture
Not being a provider himself, Belmont offers the CIO’s perspective, which he maintains is “much bigger and broader” than just an organization’s technology and IT department. A CIO has “the ability to see the organization holistically across all of the different avenues,” he says, and that’s essential when it comes to managing a patient engagement software platform, portfolio, and tools. When he came to Memorial Gulfport, he looked for areas of potential overlap – where the same solution was being used in different areas of the hospital.
“We were leveraging a tool, but we were functioning as individual point solutions. And the idea is to bring more of that together,” he says. Memorial uses Emmi® solutions, which Belmont says his organization views as a true patient engagement platform, “something that we can build on.”
Building a strategic patient engagement system at Memorial Gulfport
As he looks toward a more strategic approach to patient engagement, Belmont sees several factors that are key to success:
- Rather than buying a point solution to address each new need that arises, continue to leverage their existing Emmi platform to streamline resources and reduce confusion.
- Leverage the vendor relationship into a partnership – as the hospital expands use of its patient engagement platform, Belmont says he wants to work in closer capacity with fewer software companies “so they participate in our journey versus just filling orders. That’s the partnership side of it, and the platform side.”
- Take advantage of the data: “It’s not just engaging the patient, but what is the efficacy of that engagement and those contacts?” Belmont asks. “We get some really rich data coming back. And if it’s sitting in one department, or in a silo, or not used at all, we’ve missed an opportunity.”
Patient engagement videos and outreach calls result in measurable outcomes
In the webinar, Belmont shared Memorial Hospital at Gulfport’s results from its first three patient engagement program case studies. Positive outcomes toward the health system’s goals were achieved in separate programs, but it was the start needed to move into a strategic mindset, Belmont says.
“I’m not sure if we had to launch it as an institutional initiative versus a point solution, it would have had the traction to get going. But I think now that we have it up and running is the time to pull it all together.”
Memorial Gulfport employs EmmiJourneys™, a solution that combines interactive voice response calling and multimedia videos to reinforce discharge or care instructions, remind patients about follow-up appointments, and/or monitor adherence. The program also reports status back to the care team in case one-on-one follow-up is required.
In its initial case studies, Memorial Gulfport saw that patient engagement programs were associated with:
- 50% higher likelihood of attending follow-up appointments with primary care providers within 21 days of discharge
- 26% fewer avoidable emergency department visits
- Fewer ED visits were further associated with lower costs, potentially up to nearly $89,000 per 1,000 patients discharges
- Between 27% and 65% lower 30-day readmission rate, depending on whether patients engaged with only some or all of the Emmi programs prescribed to them
Future goals and opportunities for patient engagement
Looking at Memorial Gulfport’s future, Belmont says he is focused on “optimizing or managing the number of touches … So, it’s not about more contacts. It’s about more valuable contacts, and ones that [patients will] actually listen to.”
He looks at the hospital’s “coordination opportunities” – such as remote patient monitoring groups, Medicare Advantage patients, and those involved in chronic care management and other outreach programs – patients who might be receiving duplicative contacts or be involved in multiple Emmi engagement programs. Streamlining those points of contact so the patients already targeted for engagement are communicated with more efficiently is one goal. Finding entry points to engage new patients – like during annual wellness visits – is another.
Belmont notes that an important element to creating a hospital-wide strategic program is managing patient care transition points. It is in the existing nature of healthcare systems to think in terms of “my patient” instead of “our patient,” he says, so when the patient transitions from ED to discharge to primary care follow-up, the engagement isn’t always consistent.
“The word I go back to is platform,” he says. “It’s not about adding more. It’s about taking advantage of what we have and what works and explaining that to other areas of the organization. We evolved. IT, in particular, has continued to morph away from being an IT department to more services-based … If we don’t continually look for opportunities to bring people together and exchange ideas, shame on us.
"And from another perspective, we’re a huge expense on an organization. So how do we return that value, not just by having systems that work but offering solutions and ideas and different approaches to parts of the organization that are just so busy taking care of doing their job every day? How can we help them either do it better or do it differently?”
To learn more about “Patient Engagement as a Strategic Initiative: Better Outcomes for All,” watch the webinar. This webinar was first presented to the Scottsdale Institute Members.