Telehealth, including remote patient monitoring, can play an important role in improving clinician-patient engagement.

Healthcare must reintroduce the personal model; all players must work together to create a new system that produces higher quality care.

So often, health care is about the personal connection established between a patient and a doctor, another clinician, or general members of the care team. Given the evolving expectations and considerations of how to make this connection, it is essential to enable and implement a strong combination of the “human touch” and the “technology touch.”

The human touch component of health care refers to a patient and a clinician being able to spend meaningful time together discussing issues, identifying ways to address them, and then following a treatment plan regardless of time constraints or economic pressures.

But the corporate structure of health care has changed over time, prioritizing packing as many patient visits as possible and keeping them short. The impact of this change has been to reduce the human touch. Pushed by time, doctors often cannot fully understand the daily experiences of patients.

Impact of EMRs

Government-driven adoption of electronic medical records and the explosion of digital health solutions have been hailed as opportunities for greater interactions and engagement with physicians. But until now, EMR use has unfortunately resulted in increased screen time for physicians and perceived interference in physician/patient interactions. The need to check so many boxes within the EMR isn’t driving engagement or better documentation, some critics say.

Many EMRs are not designed to enhance relationships between patients and doctors or foster better clinical knowledge, critics say. EMRs are best designed to capture and drive claims submission and billing. And systems designed for this purpose aren’t necessarily ideal when trying to analyze data or extract new insights.

The role of telehealth

But telehealth can play an important role in improving clinician/patient engagement in this new era.

Consider this example: A technology-based remote monitoring system pulls information daily from patients using connected devices and surveys. Patient-reported data is then filtered and aggregated through analytics built into a digital platform, which can be customized by a clinician to provide alerts if readings go out of range or if data is not being recorded. Further, the technology platform can be used to send reminders or information from the clinician to the patient to encourage certain behaviors.

If disturbing trends are identified, the clinician can quickly reach out to engage the patient – ​​whether asynchronously, by text, audio or video. Quick intervention can have a significant impact and prevent a minor concern from becoming a major issue.

Going to the next step, additional real-time information can provide new insights into what is happening with the patient. These insights may prompt different questions or perceptions when an interaction occurs between patient and clinician.

For example, the clinician may now know to ask about environmental or lifestyle conditions that are affecting the patient. As the clinician learns that information, new avenues for care or support may be identified.

As this scenario shows, technology can improve the interaction between doctors and patients.

Service charge limitations

One of the biggest obstacles to the described intersection of the human touch and technology is the limitation of fee-for-service reimbursement models. These models do not pay for more comprehensive clinician-patient interactions. Because fee-for-service models make payments based on the delivery of specific services, they lack the ability to reimburse for interactions that may go beyond traditional health care services.

Newer value-based care models are better suited to foster the full engagement needed to provide better care. Although it is not clear whether current models fully embrace reimbursement for better patient engagement, value-based care is still in its early stages, so there is much room for tinkering with models.

To some extent, we need to re-introduce the much older, highly personal model of health care. But instead of trying to go back to the old days, all the players in the health care arena should work together to create a new system that produces higher quality care with better outcomes.

Matt Fisher is General Counsel for Carium, a telehealth platform company.

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