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Value-Based Care Tech, Part 2: Patient Interfaces

Without patient engagement and the right technology, value-based care will stall. With engagement and the right technology, it can thrive, with the potential to improve the health of your employees and save you and them money. Robust patient portals address both.

As we observed in our look at provider infrastructures, many health insurance executives don’t expect value-based programs to grow much over the next two years. In one survey, about 40% of them cited technology-related challenges as the biggest barrier to success, and 28% cited patient engagement, according to HealthEdge.

The nexus of these two elements — incorporating the consumer perspective and providing robust, patient-friendly health IT tools — is essential for a truly value-driven health care system, according to the Health Care Transformation Task Force. To that end, the Task Force — a consortium of leading health care payers, providers, purchasers and patient organizations, including Anthem — recently released six guiding principles.

Here’s a look at two of these principles that will have a direct impact on how your employees make their health care decisions.

People-Centered Health IT

Principle: Organizations should operate systems that promote use of people-centered health IT. Consumer interfaces should prioritize simplicity, clarity and transparency.

In many respects, this remains aspirational. “Consumer interfaces are simply not where they need to be in the industry,” Hoangmai Pham, MD, vice president of provider alignment solutions at Anthem, observed during a recent webinar. “They should really help nudge consumers toward high-value products and evidence-based decisions in a way that is user-friendly.”

You likely already understand the value of giving consumers access to their own health data, but Pham is talking about something more: Giving consumers two-way access to their own health data is an important tool for empowerment and activation. That means consumers should be able not only to access but also to add their own patient-generated data, such as health history, preferences and care goals.

Accessing lab results through patient portals offers a good example of how this should work but often doesn’t. Some patient portals not only give patients access to their health information — such as blood work — but also include context. A list of tests and numbers won’t help the average patient. So some plans and providers are educating them about what the result means. A simple note or popup box accompanying the result can make a tremendous difference for both the “worried well” employee and the one who needs treatment.

Unfortunately, many patient portals don’t provide this — even though the evidence suggests they should. Clinicians need to add interpretations to patient portal notes for patients who access their own lab results, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. This not only aids informed decision-making but also reduces stress.

The researchers found that patients frequently experienced negative emotions when they received abnormal results, which is understandable. However, sometimes they responded similarly even to normal results. “Ideal test result notification via portals should include information about the purpose of the test, the result in the context of the patient’s health, directions for next steps and specific resources, including available support and educational services,” the researchers concluded.

Multimodal Communication Strategies

Another principle: Organizations should develop multimodal communication strategies to engage consumers.

Consumers want — and need — to understand the clinical and financial implications of their decisions. They want the data and education “to make informed decisions about their health care as well as to navigate the challenges of their financial liabilities,” Pham said.

Again, this remains aspirational in many quarters; many systems need to be updated. Nevertheless, it’s something she and the other members of the Health Care Transformation Task Force are working to advance.

Providers and consumers, according to Pham, “should be able to see and easily compare service costs at the point of care when they are making those really critical decisions about care.” Embedding plan design elements into the electronic health record and making them accessible through patient portals can help clinicians and patients navigate payment issues just as they do other aspects of the care plan.

Moving Beyond Aspiration

Although these principles are primarily ambition at this point, some providers and payers are already deploying robust, multimodal, people-centered health IT. For instance, Anthem is encouraging some of its high-performing provider groups and accountable care organizations to offer e-consults, online scheduling, telehealth services and other patient-centered IT offerings. It’s all about improving the patient experience.

Providers aren’t the only ones expected to take this on. Leading insurers, including Anthem, are working to make mobile and web interface easier for customers. The goal, Pham said, is to make it easier for consumers to find what they need more quickly and intuitively when they visit their health plan website or use its mobile tools. This will include the ability to locate care, estimate costs and identify high-value providers.

This level of engagement makes your employees active participants in their own health care. And that has value for everyone.