The role of health informatics in increasing patient engagement

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Person looking at their smartphoneIncreased patient engagement is an important goal in modern healthcare. Research has shown that when patients are more engaged in their care, they experience better outcomes, which can improve quality of life and save money for both the consumer and the provider. It is also a metric that health care organizations are required to measure to receive reimbursement for services per the value-based care model.

“Providers have to see patients as a partner with a real voice and a personal vested interest in care. Patients are quickly becoming the CEO of their own healthcare, and the value-based model is more crucial in the physician-patient relationship,” Dr. Geeta Nayyar, Femwell Group Health, Inc. chief healthcare and innovation officer told the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

Though patient engagement is an important part of encouraging patients to take responsibility for their own care, there are a number of challenges that can make this goal difficult to attain. However, by leveraging health informatics, professionals can overcome these obstacles to improve the experience of patients and encourage engagement.

What is patient engagement?

During an episode of care, a provider may be responsible for diagnosis and treatment, but the patient also has a role. In health care, the patient-consumer is often responsible for making numerous decisions and responsibilities, such as choosing between two treatment plans, obtaining and taking prescriptions, eating a recommended diet or monitoring blood pressure. If the patient does not engage in their care to make these things happen, their health may suffer.

“Positive patient engagement means reaching patients where they are and connecting with them the way they like to communicate. Patients want timely information about their health and treatment and what next steps to take,” Molly McCarthy, RN, MBA, chief nursing strategist at Microsoft U.S. Health & Life Sciences, told the HIMSS.

However, to be engaged in their own care, patients need the right resources to make this happen. This is where health informatics professionals can play a role.

The role of health informatics

The growing field of health informatics is contributing to improvements in a number of areas of healthcare, including influencing the resources that are used to increase patient engagement. By combining clinical knowledge with data skills, HI professionals help ensure that patients have the information and tools that they need to make informed decisions in their care.

Professionals in health informatics can contribute to this particular area in a number of ways:

Personal health records: To properly educate patients on their own health, providers need to have access to a complete health history. This is one of the reasons why electronic health records are valuable in increasing patient engagement. Without a full picture of the patient’s previous experiences, the provider may not be able to supply all the education that he or she needs. Complete and accurate health records are additionally important for ensuring that patients trust their providers, something that can be damaged when errors are made during the course of care. A report by the Joint Commission Center estimated that about 80 percent of serious medical errors result, at least in part, because of miscommunications that occur between caregivers during the transfer of the patient. Complete and interoperable health records can help prevent this.

Patient portals: To make educated decisions about their care, patients need to have access to their personal health information. Patient portals are a valuable tool for providing this access. However, these tools are useless if they do not contain the necessary information. Informatics professionals can play a role in shaping patient portals and ensuring that they are integrated with other systems, such as EHRs, to maximize their value in patient engagement.

Mobile-centric health apps: Today, mobile devices travel everywhere with consumers.Consequently, health apps can be a strategic way to keep patients engaged in their care when they are away from a hospital or doctor’s office. To ensure that these applications are as effective as possible, health informaticists can analyze and leverage user data to identify challenges and create solution.

Wearable devices: Similarly, wearable devices can also be used to track important metrics such as blood pressure and sleep quality. In addition to providing valuable information to providers, seeing this data and being responsible for collecting it can keep patients informed about their own health. The mass quantities of information that are collected can then be analyzed by health informatics professionals to ensure that it is leveraged properly.
While informatics professionals in most any setting or position can be involved in helping consumers become more involved with their care, nurse informaticists are particularly well-placed to increase patient engagement through HI strategies. According to a report published in the Online Journal of Nursing Informatics, nurse informaticists have both the clinical insight and technical knowledge needed to identify existing problems and create solutions, including patient tools.

A career in health informatics

Healthcare technology is increasingly being used to improve patient engagement and other important care metrics, but some organizations are struggling to find qualified professionals to address these needs. According to the 2017 HIMSS Leadership and Workforce Survey, 62 percent of healthcare organizations are not fully staffed for their health IT needs.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in health informatics, consider enrolling in the online Master of Science in Health Informatics program at  the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Recommended reading:

How health care analytics improves patient care

The value of health analytics

The promise of personalized health care technology


HIMSS, “What is Patient Engagement”
Online Journal of Nursing Informatics, “Using Health Information Technology to Engage Patients in their Care” 
Health IT News. “What Does Patient Engagement Really Mean?”
The Joint Commission, “Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare Releases Targeted Solutions Tool for Hand-Off Communications
Healthcare Innovation, “Challenges ahead for advancing health IT outside hospital environment”