Professional Development

One Woman's Journey from Medicine to Patient Engagement Guru

People often ask me how it all started. How did a physician from Denmark end up being a global patient engagement guru?

Having grown up in a household where both of my parents were surgeons, it's probably no surprise that I ended up becoming a physician myself. If you'd asked me, when I began my career, if I thought I might one day also work in technology I never would have believed it. Early in my medical profession, however, I saw immense potential in bringing those two worlds together.

As a young physician in 1999, I quickly grew frustrated with the lack of tools to help patients once they left my office. While working in urgent care in Norway, I can't tell you how many patients I encountered who could have avoided medical complications had there been an easier way for those patients to connect back with their physician. I met patient after patient who either didn’t know that the complications they were experiencing warranted physician follow-up or who simply could not get through to their physician.

The limited time we, as clinicians, had to interact with patients during appointments only exacerbated the problem. Manual tasks and time spent in the EMR during visits further hindered patient communication. I soon found myself asking, "How can we do this better?" and in 2001 I convinced my husband to quit his job and join me in the endeavor and together we launched the world's first patient portal.

The platform turned out to be a huge success and was loved by both physicians and their patients. Within two years, we had roughly 30 percent of physicians in Denmark using our tools to interact with patients. Since then, we've launched similar applications in Europe and in the U.S., connecting thousands of family physicians, specialists, and lab and home health professionals with millions of patients worldwide.

Traveling the World

I’ve lived in four different countries since then and travelled the world speaking with physician and healthcare leaders about how we can use technology to improve care.

My vision has always been that if we empower patients to take better care of their health, then the physician can be more of a coach guiding patients through their journey of care. This is what is needed to improve outcomes. Imagine a day where patients always know what to do at home, where there is no front desk because patients check in at home, and when at the doctor’s office, patients and physicians look at the data the patient has monitored since their last visit. This is going to change healthcare and I think that day is right around the corner.

The interesting thing is that the healthcare sectors and problems are not very different across the globe. The only thing that varies from country to country is the payment model, which drives technology adoption and the way physicians take care of their patients.

Denmark, who was far ahead for many years, is now, in my opinion, far behind in healthcare technology adoption because the payment models are not changing. In spite of being 15 years behind Denmark in EMR adoption, the U.S., on the other hand, is leading the way today with innovative payment models that support value-based care and focus on quality outcomes. These are exciting times and I’m thrilled to be part of this movement.

The Power of a Physician’s Perspective

I believe our success in the patient engagement space is largely due to our ability to honor both the physician and the patient perspective. Many patient-facing applications have been developed by either a patient advocate or an EMR vendor, which invariably leads to resources that favor the needs of either patients or providers, respectively, but seldom both.

Through my work as a physician, I have been fortunate to cultivate a natural instinct for what works for patient/provider collaboration. My clinical background offers unique insight into what I can do as a physician and what makes sense to ask the patient to do.

Equally important is our keen attention to the voice of patient end users. It is imperative that patients feel like active participants in their health journey. Platforms must offer patients broader communication channels, information they can use between visits, and—even better—an opportunity to supplement their provider's insight into health indicators at home.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring how we can leverage patients’ phones to connect patients and providers when needed. We begin to see some amazing results when we get more than 80 percent of a provider’s patients using our apps. This is really changing the way physicians and patients interact.

The Female Entrepreneur’s Perspective

With so few women doing what I do it is easy to stand out, which can open a lot of doors. As a woman and a physician, I'm often able to make connections where the men in our company cannot. My strong sense of intuition, which I feel comes more naturally to women, has also served me well professionally.

Women often don't feel the kind of drive that prompts men to be center stage. If I can offer a piece of advice to other women in health IT, it is this: Fight the urge to stay in the background. Women often tend to stay back, but we need to step out in the front and help healthcare move forward, because I think women have a lot to offer in this space.

It's important that we as women not let the perceived limiters of gender overshadow our assets, in our own minds or the minds of others.

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

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