Data and Prevention’s Place in Digital Health Engagement

By Ashley Reynolds, PhD, RN, ACSM-HFS, Chief Experience Officer, BioIQ

My healthcare career began when I became a Hospital Corpsman, dressing wounds in the U.S. Navy. After the Navy, I transitioned to the Emergency Department, working as an EMT before going on to become a registered nurse. As a nurse working in the ER, ICU and CCU, I often spent time caring for patients who were suffering at the end of a lifetime of bad decisions. It was then that I started to wonder how different things might be if, instead of focusing almost exclusively on reactive care and disease management, we put more emphasis on proactively driving patient health and wellness to avoid those health issues in the first place.

This experience prompted me to pivot away from acute care and down a career path focused on modifying patient behavior, promoting healthy actions and reducing patient health threats. I wanted to empower patients to avoid high-risk health scenarios. I moved into disease management, working with health plans on national quality improvement initiatives. During this time, I obtained my bachelors, masters and PhD in nursing, nursing administration and nursing science, respectively. The focus of my doctoral research was digital health and how it can be used to change patient behaviors. I studied health engagement tools and age-related differences in their adoption. My research armed me with a keen understanding of what’s required to build health technologies that appeal to different generations—from elderly patients to millennials.

From there, I transitioned to working with population health management companies where we deployed clinical intervention programs across different disease groups. I led companies in this space, helping with the build-out of digital apps and platforms to engage patients and give them easier ways to participate in population health programs. That road led me to my current job where I’m responsible for ensuring an optimal member experience in efforts to engage health plan members in health screenings, wellness activities and other next steps in their care journey.  Our goal is to positively impact 100 million patient lives, and we recently hit a milestone on that journey when we conducted our one millionth colorectal cancer screening.

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned many valuable lessons about what does and does not work to drive member or patient health engagement. Traditional engagement programs have fallen short because they weren’t designed with end-users in mind. Meeting the unique needs of various patient cohorts requires an understanding of consumer behavior and convenience-oriented care pathways. To motivate patients to take a more proactive role in their health, the experience cannot be negative, and it cannot be a complicated process for patients to access services. Retail, home health and direct-to-consumer offerings represent unique new pathways health plans and providers are leveraging to engage members and patients between on-site visits.

I’m encouraged by healthcare’s adoption of a more consumer-driven model. I see great potential in technology-mediated health and the use of digital coaching tools to improve outcomes. It really is about shifting the patient mindset from being a passive recipient to an active participant in one’s health. I’m passionate about empowering patients between visits and putting health data directly in their hands.

The field of clinical informatics has seen remarkable gains in the past decade. Digital tools are just one piece of a comprehensive population health strategy. To be most effective, this strategy must include primary, secondary and tertiary levels of preventive care. Primary prevention includes healthy lifestyle management, interventions and immunizations. Secondary prevention includes health testing and screening for early disease detection. Tertiary prevention includes targeted condition support to stem the progression of chronic illnesses.

As we work to continue to make strides in data-driven healthcare, based on my experience, I’d offer three key pieces of advice to others entering into or in the field:

  1. It is vital to understand your patient population. Different socioeconomic and demographic groups use technology and engage in health in different ways. Program designers should consider these differences when creating digital health tools and outreach strategies.
  2. Develop solutions that address specific patient needs. If the proposed technology doesn’t meet a defined consumer need, it will not sustain engagement. Develop tools tailored to support the specific needs of unique patient subsets, like diabetic patients, for example.
  3. Finally, even the best technology will fail if the user experience is poor. Today’s consumers have little patience for technology that falls short of its expected use, is confusing or generates frustration. Tools must bring convenience to the patient experience to be effective.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.