Online patient portals and access to digital health records have driven a significant increase in patient engagement, a new study by CDW Healthcare shows.

The 2017 Patient Engagement Perspectives Study, released today, builds on CDW Healthcare’s 2016 research, and looks at patient engagement advances, challenges to increasing patient involvement, and the role of communication and technology in expanding patient engagement.

The study found that 70 percent of patients say that they have become more engaged with their health care during the past two years–up from 57 percent in 2016. When asked what motivated them to become more engaged with their health care, patients said their top two drivers were greater online access to personal health care records and access to online patient portals.

“This progress is not surprising, as patients are increasingly seeing the benefits to online access and the power that patient portals play in enabling patients to be more engaged in their health care, leading to better outcomes,” said Nancy Ragont, senior manager of customer insights at CDW Healthcare.

The study also found that providers are increasingly invested in seeing higher levels of patient engagement. Seventy-one percent of providers say improving patient engagement is a top priority at their organization–up from 60 percent in 2016–and 80 percent are working on a way to make personal health care records easier to access.

“As the U.S. health care model continues its expected evolution from a fee-for-service to a pay-for-performance model, providers have more at stake,” said Ragont. “They’ve long understood that patient engagement correlates directly with care outcomes…the difference today is that the bottom line is at stake for providers as they’re increasingly compensated for outcomes.”

Despite the sunny outlook for using technology to improve patient engagement, the study did reveal that only 29 percent of patients would give their health care providers an A for their use of technology to interact with and engage patients. One area that is lacking is text messaging–only 21 percent of providers say they’ve used that method over the past two years to interact with patients.

However, some methods just may not be as practical for health care providers to use with patients. “We need to consider time management for providers and their staff as well as ongoing concerns regarding privacy and security, many of which can be managed today with more secure forms of communication,” said Ragont.

Security and privacy concerns also apply to telemedicine.  The study found only 9 percent of providers are “very comfortable” with the idea of telemedicine, and 43 percent have privacy concerns.

“Security is always a top priority and consideration for health care providers,” Ragont said. “With system vulnerabilities and user error at the core of the vast majority of health care data breaches, it is critical for health care organizations to ensure employees and patients are equipped with the knowledge to recognize impending and evolving threats.

“They also need to make sure a comprehensive security strategy is in place and conduct regular evaluations to modify their security strategies and tactics,” she said. “Effective strategies must consider all people, processes and technology involved to not only better prepare for an attack, but also to ensure an organization can respond to incidents more quickly and effectively, minimizing overall damage.”

Overall, the study found that patient portals are the best way to improve the patient-provider relationship. Ninety-eight percent of patients say they can access a patient portal today–up from 60 percent in 2016–and 81 percent of providers who have improved their engagement with patients credit the availability of patient portals.

Ninety-five percent of patients have experienced benefits from engagement with their personal health care information online, including:

  • Becoming more knowledgeable about personal medical information (70 percent).
  • Saving time (60 percent).
  • Increasing overall engagement with personal health care (50 percent).
  • Improving the overall convenience of health care (49 percent).

When asked how technology affects the patient and provider differently, Ragont said both patients and providers are seeing the benefits of technology to increase patient engagement. “Patients welcome greater engagement, and providers have more resources to help patients achieve this goal,” she said.

“The challenge for providers is making personal health care records easier to access for patients,” said Ragont. “As patients are becoming increasingly comfortable with new technology, they are seeing the benefits to online access, the use of patient portals, as well as mobile technologies.”

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