EHR systems and telehealth devices prove key to patient engagement

Electronic health records and features like patient portals and electronic prescribing have made an impact on the health care system since hospitals and practices began using them years ago. However, due to the recent push from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to focus more on health information exchange and patient engagement, these electronic tools have become even more impactful. 

How many people use patient portals?
Many experts are taking note of the effects EHRs and their features are having on aspects like patient engagement. Various surveys and polls have been taken to determine whether using EHR systems will benefit health providers in this area. 

One of the most recent is a Harris Poll survey conducted by ambulatory health care IT vendor eClinicalWorks. The company asked 2,000 adults throughout the U.S. about their access to patient portals through their primary care provider. 

The results showed that 84 percent of the respondents use a patient portal. It also found that, surprisingly, adults over the age of 55 are more likely to view their personal health records with the assistance of these online tools compared to adults between the ages of 18 and 54. A total of 60 percent of participants also noted that they prefer to schedule an appointment through a secure website or portal.

The poll discovered that 3 out of every 4 polled physicians found the most notable advantage of patient portals to be their ability to allow patients to see their medical data. They also reported that being able to share information among doctors is another huge benefit. Portals are also responsible for additional improvements, such as enabling physicians to send alerts and appointment reminders. Over 56 percent of doctors find it much easier to schedule appointments as well. 

Telehealth initiatives soar in popularity
The eClinicalWorks survey showed that in addition to EHR systems and patient portals, telehealth and wearable technology are becoming more popular and impacting the health care sector. A total of 37 percent of patients who wear fitness devices do so on a daily basis, and nearly 4 out of 5 people who wear them more than twice a month think it is essential that their doctors have access to this data.

Patients are starting to prefer telehealth visits over in-person follow-ups after a previous health concern. The poll found that 2 out of 3 physicians believe fitness trackers, mobile health applications and patient portals have transformed the typical patient-physician conversation. 

A survey taken across the U.S., Germany and the U.K. by Nuance Communications sought to find how patients feel about all of the new health care IT that has emerged over the past several years. Although the majority of the respondents found the use of new health technologies to be beneficial, there are still a few problem areas that need work. 

"One of the things that came out [of the survey] was that patients like the fact that their physicians are using technologies," Nick van Terheyden, chief medical information officer of Nuance Communications, told EHR Intelligence. "Obviously, it's come with some challenges and specific problems. Our desire is to smooth that over and make the technology work better for the interaction."

Terheyden recommended rearranging the office for enhanced productivity and shifting focus from tasks like note-taking during appointments to the patients themselves. He suggested that doctors record data with EHR systems so that they are able to better engage with their patients. 

With telehealth and EHR technology soaring in popularity, the health care industry should be prepared to see more significant changes. If providers do not begin to focus on adopting these innovative technologies, they can expect to no longer meet patient expectations, as patients are increasingly demanding more engagement and control over their own health.