Digital Technologies: Enhancing Patient Engagement

by Jim Ciuca

Several benefits come with higher levels of patient engagement: increased patient satisfaction, better outcomes, lower cost, and fewer delays in care. Ted James, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, referenced this in his article “The Future of Patient Engagement in the Digital Age” and argued that the healthcare sector has a need, now more than ever, for digital technology-based solutions. Dr. James also noted that while access to patient portals plays a role in increasing engagement, that these tools do little without the patients also gaining access to care team members to enable shared decision making. Jim Ciuca, Development Officer for Commercialization at the Center for Machine Learning and Health (CMLH), assists researchers to develop business cases and recently shared his thoughts on patient engagement, what the CMLH is doing in the area, and what challenges researchers and designers may face in the future.

At the CMLH, we’ve seen that digital and mobile health technologies such as wearables, enhanced UIs, and home monitoring devices have begun to create meaningful enhancements and opportunities for increased engagement. Two PHDA projects that have armed patients with better tools for goal setting and at-home self-care are MyHealthyPregnancy and In-Home Movement Therapy. The MyHealthyPregnancy smartphone app delivers personalized real-time feedback to mothers regarding their pregnancy progression and helps them manage appointments and tests. The In-Home Movement Therapy project also focuses on out-of-office engagement by using in-home sensors to alert patients if they’re not doing their physical therapy movements correctly.

While some of the advances seen with digital health technologies have been noteworthy, it’s important to mention that the majority of gains from patient engagement have not yet been achieved. The next generation of digital solutions will need to dive deeper into this challenge. Innovators will have to confront digital inclusion; since patients exist along a spectrum where their trust in and use of digital tools varies. While there are some patients that have a strong desire to work with their doctors to better understand their diagnoses, there are others who are skeptical of the medical system and seek information from elsewhere. This spectrum, that was researched in the study “Characterizing the Digital Health Citizen,” will be increasingly difficult for designers since one application and/or tool could have varying effects across a wide population.

The larger context of patent experience may also offer insights for achieving deeper engagement. Digital engagement is just one subset of the larger context in which patients experience healthcare. New digital technologies must be considered in conjunction with the physical and social dimensions of how people interact with the delivery of care. Innovating in this larger, and more challenging, space might be the key to making a significant impact on health and the patient’s journey to better outcomes.


References and Reading:

The Future of Patient Engagement in the Digital Age:

Characterizing the Digital Health Citizen:

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