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Supporting the Relationship Between Seniors and Patient Care Technology

Seniors using tablet

Lorren Pettit, MS, MBA

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a gift unexpectedly land in my lap.

That’s exactly what happened to me when I recently stumbled across an article discussing a study that looked at the relationship between seniors and EHRs. In researching the use of health IT to engage older patients, I knew immediately this article needed to be in my must-read pile.

But it wasn’t the article itself that was the gift. More on that later.

The national study cited in the article reflected the needs and preferences of 1,000 U.S. adults, aged 55 and older, surveyed during the early part of 2018. What caught my eye of course were the varied insights involving older consumers and health IT. Of particular interest, researchers found seniors overwhelmingly viewed the EHR as a key technology that could support their overall healthcare.

Commenting on these findings, John Kao, CEO of Alignment Healthcare, noted that though senior consumers tend to have lower technology adoption rates than other age groups, they still have an “appetite” for patient care technology. This led Kao to conclude that, “technology applications should be consumer-centric, easy to use, and coupled with a care model that promotes more face-to-face interaction with healthcare providers.” I couldn’t agree more.

As beneficial as these findings were to my specific research needs, the unexpected gift was that the study made the very rare and bold move to make its raw data on the relationship between seniors and this patient care technology freely available for download. My inner nerd squealed with glee upon successfully accessing the data. There is nothing better for a closet statistician than to roll around in someone’s data. Not to try to poke holes in the findings mind you, but to see if a different set of eyes could uncover additional insights for the marketplace.

Consumers and Perceived Health Information Technology Environments

My first interest was to see if it was possible to analyze survey respondents by some shared characteristic beyond the standard demographics (e.g., age, region, etc.). Fortunately, the survey designers asked a series of questions about the array of supportive patient care technology options currently used by the respondent’s provider. Employing an advanced statistical procedure to uncover patterns in responses (Cluster Analysis), respondents reporting on the “perceived” use of nine different health technology services by their healthcare provider tended to respond in one of three general ways (see table below).

No technologies used: Representing 35 percent of all respondents, all of these consumers claimed their healthcare provider did not currently use any one of the nine technology services listed.

Basic technologies used: Encompassing 46 percent of all respondents, over half of these consumers were aware of their healthcare provider using the following two technologies:

  • Electronic record sharing of all my doctors’ visits, hospitalizations, prescriptions, lab and tests results, medical procedures, etc. (reported by 68 percent of respondents in this grouping)
  • Web and mobile access to lab and test results (reported by 53 percent of respondents in this grouping)

More extensive technologies used: Covering just 18 percent of all respondents, these consumers tended to claim their healthcare provider had a more wide-ranging usage of the nine health technology services listed than those in the other groupings. More specifically, two-thirds or more of these consumers claimed their healthcare provider uses the following four technologies:

  1. Web and mobile optimized appointment setting (reported by 100 percent of respondents in this grouping)
  2. Web and mobile access to lab and test results (reported by 74 percent of respondents in this grouping)
  3. Electronic record sharing of all my doctors’ visits, hospitalizations, prescriptions, lab and tests results, medical procedures, etc. (reported by 72 percent of respondents in this grouping)
  4. Ability to send email messages and images to my doctor (reported by 65 percent of respondents in this grouping)

Patient Care Technology Used by Healthcare Provider

Sources: Alignment Healthcare and Toluna

It’s important to keep in mind that these results do not necessarily represent the actual health IT capabilities of U.S. healthcare providers. The groupings reflect the respondent’s “awareness,” or better yet, “perception” of the health IT capabilities used by their healthcare provider.

Satisfaction and Perceived Health IT Environments

Having established that respondents could be partitioned by their provider’s (perceived) health IT capabilities, it made sense then to see if/how health IT capability impacted the respondent’s satisfaction with their provider. Using a five-point scale (1 = “Not at all satisfied”; 5 = “Extremely satisfied”), respondents were asked to indicate their level of satisfaction with their current provider on a list of 17 healthcare related services. My analysis uncovered a few valuable insights.

Satisfaction intensity: Consumer satisfaction with providers increase as the provider’s (perceived) health IT capabilities expand. Respondents in the most advanced health IT provider environments were the most satisfied of all the respondents. These respondents were more satisfied with each of the 17 services listed than respondents claiming their provider operates a basic technological environment. In a likewise manner, respondents in basic technological provider environments were more satisfied with their provider than those claiming their provider uses no supportive health IT.

Satisfaction ranking: The technological environment does not appear to impact service satisfaction rankings. Services that scored high for those in more advanced health IT environments, also scored high for those in basic health IT environments as well as for those in no health IT environments, etc.

So What?

Pulling these findings together offers at least two instructive insights that should challenge providers.

First, older consumers have a limited understanding of their provider’s actual health IT capabilities. With the widespread use of EHRs and patient portals, the high percentage of respondents claiming their provider does not at least use these basic health IT capabilities is too fantastic to accept. While it is possible that some providers do not use health IT at all, something else is most likely at play here. For example, older consumers may not associate the use of computers by their provider with an “electronic record.” It’s also very possible that some providers don’t explain how health IT is being used in the patient’s care. Left uninformed, patients have an incomplete view of the provider’s capabilities and more likely to make uninformed decisions regarding their health options.

Recommendation: “Invite” patient care technology into the patient/provider encounter. While health IT operations should be invisible to consumers, the technologically enabled solutions offered by providers need not be. Instead of glossing over its role, provider’s should explain how they are leveraging patient care technology in support of their overall care. This opens the door to discussions as to how patients could use patient care technology to their advantage.

Second, health IT offers providers a competitive advantage in the consumer marketplace. As consumers tend to respond positively to the (perceived) technological capabilities of their provider, providers can use this to their advantaged to increase their patient satisfaction scores and consumer preference efforts.

Recommendation: Promote the organization’s technological enabled health services to older consumers. Seniors believe technology will transform healthcare and are receptive to tech-enabled services to better manage their own health. Providers should therefore not shy away from incorporating patient care technology into their marketing campaigns.

But before doing so, I would remind readers of the admonition by Kao that technology applications be consumer-centric. This of course carries over to the way in which we market health IT to consumers. Promotional campaigns need to focus on the benefits to consumers these technologies offer, not the bells and whistles of the technologies themselves.

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