How to Improve Health Equity through Patient Engagement Technology

December 14, 2022
Melissa Welch, MD

Chief Medical Officer

Article Summary


Healthcare leaders discuss how they use digital patient engagement technology to bridge care disparities and reduce the burden of health inequity. This article shares strategies for building trust through technology and gaining organizational buy-in for a successful launch.

patient engagement technology improves health equity

How to Improve Health Equity through Patient Engagement Technology

Equitable care is at the forefront of today’s clinical strategies as providers look for ways to minimize health disparities within their patient populations. A patient engagement strategy can close the health equity gap when technology is integrated into clinical pathways. Digital strategies expand health literacy and reach patients how and when they like to be contacted, and for many patients, that means connected care outside of the provider office.   

Communication tools engage patients with promising results. Outcomes of leveraging the patient engagement platform, Twistle™ by Health Catalyst, were shared November 2nd during a webinar, How Patient Engagement Technology Can Improve Health Equity, hosted by Becker’s Hospital Review. Panelists participating in the discussion were:   

  • Matthew Hoffman, MD, chair, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and director, Center for Women’s & Children’s Health Research, ChristianaCare   
  • Suzanne Quillen, RN, NP, vice president healthcare innovation, Ernest Health   
  • Emily Webber, MD, FAAP FAMIA, vice president & chief medical information officer, Indiana University Health (IU Health)  

How Do Healthcare Providers Address Health Disparities?  

ChristianaCare turned to patient engagement technology to address maternal morbidity and mortality, and specifically, reduce postpartum hypertension readmission rates. Patients were looking for virtual interactions and ChristianaCare realized their providers needed to monitor patient health outside of the clinic. “It didn’t take long to realize patients wanted radical convenience to ask questions, report [health status] real-time; and that became a growing expectation,” said Dr. Hoffman, chair, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and director, Center for Women’s & Children’s Health Research, ChristianaCare.  

Ernest Health provides post-acute care for patients who are elderly and, in many cases, dealing with traumatic injuries. Their patient engagement technology efforts focus on reducing unnecessary readmissions post-discharge. Knowing why their patients are readmitted and how they are doing at home were questions that needed to be addressed by the clinical team. “They didn’t know, and that was one of the drivers to adopt patient engagement technology to bridge their patient communication,” said Ms. Quillen, vice president healthcare innovation, Ernest Health.  

IU Health first took risks with a community needs assessment to understand cadence, preferred type of language, how patients wanted to engage, and what types of media were preferred. “In the ICU/NICU experience, there is an enormous amount of information, communication, and to be able to put it all together in a platform where both parents can engage with the care team was incredible,” said Dr. Webber, vice president & chief medical information officer, Indiana University Health (IU Health).  

How Can a Healthcare Organization Build Trust through Technology?  

Ernest Health was unsure how their patient population would respond to text messaging, so they launched a pilot with the patient engagement platform. The willingness of patients to engage through technology and their skill level at engaging through mobile devices was a big surprise.   

IU Health saw engagement through meaningful and consistent communication. “You do that by becoming highly reliable in terms of offering patients consistent access that is secure, and that’s meaningful to them,” Dr. Webber shared. “You can use technology by showing the patient that you have the information and you know what the patient needs.”   

“Being available to patients when and how they prefer is key,” added Dr. Hoffman with ChristianaCare. “Providing a humanizing touch is important for the effectiveness of utilizing patient engagement technology.”  

What Are the Results of Improving Health Equity through Patient Engagement Technology?  

ChristianaCare sends up to 20,000 texts every month to their obstetrics (OB) volume of 6,000 patients. They can engage competitively through all pathways that the patients are on with personal and patient-centered communication. ChristianaCare was able to reduce the total rate of readmission by about half. “There was a 2:1 disparity, but now that is gone,” reported Dr. Hoffman. ChristianaCare is looking at extending the technology program to patients with diabetes.  

Earnest Health realized they were unaware that health literacy was an issue for their patients. For example, with medication compliance. Patients didn’t know when to take their first medication dose post-discharge. A feedback loop is in place today as a result of the patient engagement technology platform. “We don’t discharge our patients, we transition now,” said Ms. Quillen when referring to the communication protocols for Ernest Health patients.    

“We can provide a more equitable outreach and in a way that can scale to populations we couldn’t serve before because we were limited on resources,” Dr. Webber shared. The patient engagement platform takes the clinical staff and extends their impact.  

Dr. Hoffman stated the importance of keeping the human element in all types of communication. “Taking a patient-centric purpose is important in this work,” he added.   

In this webinar, clinicians shared their experiences in how patient engagement technology improves health equity for their organizations, the results of their efforts, and their plans to continue to close care gaps for their diverse patient populations. Watch the entire panel discussion here.

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