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3 steps to successful healthcare consumer engagement

March 28, 2014

There are many paths to actively engaging consumers in their health and wellness, and the ONC Patient Matching Final report provided yet another avenue. In my blog I mentioned consumer engagement as a path to better data quality, but the value is really very broad. Therefore, it is important that healthcare organizations, whether hospitals, ambulatory care centers, payers or other service providers, consider the prerequisites to this transformative market shift. 

Data Quality. Consumer engagement in many circles is deemed to be synonymous with consumer access to their health records.  With consumers accessing their records, the requirement to have timely, accurate and complete records is even higher (it really should have been this high all along), lest the consumer find errors or omissions. And this prerequisite starts with accurate identification of the patients. Establishing strong data quality around the patient identifier through probabilistic algorithms for record search and linkage, and developing robust business processes in registration and HIM to support accurate patient identification and record linkage are a good start. I have heard anecdotally of many organizations that deployed patient portals and patient kiosks, only to have these systems shut down because there were duplicate medical record numbers for individuals, which results in a patient seeing only part of their records (just like a caregiver would) when they access the system. Or, even worse perhaps, an individual’s record erroneously co-mingled with another patient (overlay record), thus resulting in a patient viewing records not their own. 

Sadly, patient registration/access is one of the lowest paying positions in a healthcare organization. Several years ago a CIO told me “you make as much money at McDonald’s across the street as in patient registration, so what do you expect for quality work?” And patient registration and access has high turnover as evidenced by comments in the ONC Report. Therefore, invest in initial and ongoing training, and strong technology to support this vital intake process. 

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Privacy and Security. Exposing medical records to unauthorized users, whether non-clinical staff, healthcare providers or others consumers is a HIPAA violation. Obviously no organization wants the issues such as customer satisfaction, legal exposure and compliance investigations that can arise from releasing the wrong information. Organizations need to ensure the accuracy of the patient identifier before launching kiosks, self-serve portals or other consumer engagement technologies or solutions. 

Information Governance. Data quality is really about governance. Understand the value of good data quality (or the cost of the opposite), use of the patient identifier (it underpins all documentation) and the uses and lineage of the patient identifier and the associated data. Organizations should consider how they will handle patient requests for correction of data associated with the medical record number, a topic which is worthy of a blog post itself. Make this single data quality issue a key component of any information governance strategy.

Empowering consumers to improve their health and reduce healthcare costs is a great market trend. Build your consumer engagement strategy with strong data quality to support the paths this new transformation approach will take.