Communication will lead to patient engagement in stage 2

In 2014, providers who have elected to participate in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' meaningful use incentives program will need to begin stage 2. While stage 1 of the program had its challenges, stage 2 is set to be even more difficult. That is because while the power of successfully earning incentives for stage 1 was entirely in the hands of providers and vendors, patients play a much larger role in stage 2

As part of this stage, providers need to get some of their patients to start accessing their electronic health records online. While doctors can encourage their patients to do this, there is no way that they could guarantee that they do so. This has led to many providers expressing concern that they will not be able to successfully complete this stage. EHRIntelligence recently spoke to Diana Warner, M.S., director of health information management practice excellence for the American Health Information Management Association, and asked her to give her take on what major challenges lie ahead for providers in stage 2, and whether she believes it will be possible for providers to collect incentives from it. 

Getting patients to view data
She explained that if doctors treat primarily older individuals who may not be comfortable with technology, it could be particularly difficult to get these individuals to go home and access their patient portals. However, if this is the case, that does not mean these physicians should just give up, since there are other ways to get patients engaged in their care than simply sending them home and requesting that they access their EHRs. For example, some facilities have members of their staff sit down with the patient right there in the clinic and show him or her how he or she can access the information that his or her doctor had just entered into the system. Giving patients tutorials like this may make them more likely to engage at home. 

Warner added that while patient engagement may be a challenge, she believes it will be possible for providers to make it through stage 2, even if they work in a smaller practice.

"I am optimistic. It is achievable, but it will be difficult. There are many hoops to jump through, but because CMS shortened the reporting period that should help tremendously, giving people time to get ramped up to get that done. If you have one of the EHRs that is already certified, if you're a larger organization that has been looking at it since October, it's definitely more achievable. Physicians will have a harder time. Hopefully, they still have regional extension centers that can help them. I've heard in a number of states that those [regional extension centers] have been helpful," Warner told EHRIntelligence. 

Strategies for patient engagement
Becker's Hospital Review explained that patient engagement is all about conversation. Physicians need to talk to patients and explain that they can play a vital role in their care, all they have to do is make the decision to become more involved. Research has shown that patients want to have access to their files and a firmer understanding of what is happening with their care. If physicians are able to provide them with easy-to-use portals to allow them to get the information they want, then hopefully patients will use them. Doctors should understand that many of their patients are likely eager to access their health files, but may be unaware that there is even a way for them to do so. This is why communication is key, particularly when it comes to new health care technology.