Patient engagement technologies increase demand on data networks
Thanks to a wealth of new technologies, today’s patients are more engaged with their own healthcare management than ever before. From applications and wearable devices to online patient portals and video-based consultations, healthcare technology lets patients take a more active part in their care and have changed the way doctors collaborate and keep patients informed.
At a HIMSS 2015 focus group in Chicago this past April, healthcare IT and operations professionals discussed the challenges and opportunities inherent in patient engagement technologies. While each party reported varying levels of success, one fact remains clear: Robust data networks are crucial for supporting those technologies and helping to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.
Patient portals: Health information on demand
Meaningful Use Stage 2 requires hospitals and physicians to let patients view medical records online, download and transmit their health information within four days of the information being available to the provider. Patient portal websites provide this ability and more. Patients can confirm appointments, fill out medical and social history forms, update records, track test and lab results, manage medications, review doctors’ notes and pay outstanding balances.
Some providers use a tablet and on-site WiFi to sign patients up for portals and demonstrate their use and benefits. Addressing portal security is key at this step to assure patients that their sensitive health information will not be sold or accessible to outsiders.
Patient portals will continue to evolve with new functions and features over time, such as the introduction of instant/secure messaging. In the future, we may also see unified patient portals that allow patients to access one common portal for every healthcare provider they have. Patient portals also have the future potential for meeting Meaningful Use Stage 3 requirements that are expected to focus on self-management and shared management of healthcare.
But first, providers must find a way to share data and networks and integrate the portal with an electronic medical records system. Plus, the 24×7 nature of patient portals requires a high-performance data connection as more and more patients sign up and use the portals to review results and download files and videos.
Apps and wearables: Giving patients control
Personal, wearable and otherwise easily accessible devices and apps let patients track activity and fitness levels, monitor health problems and even diagnose disease. They also provide important information to providers – information that can be integrated with medical records to create a complete health profile. In some cases, apps and wearables may be the only or best source of a patient’s health information, especially for children or patients who can’t articulate their health problem. This information can help providers make faster, more responsible clinical decisions and counsel their patients on health behaviors.
Soon, apps and wearables may be used for more than monitoring a patient’s current state of health. Consider how apps are used in the banking industry, for example, to provide “what if” scenarios for investments and other financial decisions. In the case of health apps, such a scenario might be “what if” a patient decreased his caloric intake by 500 calories a day and increased his activity level by 10 percent? What would that do to the patient’s diabetes risk?
The possibilities for information and analysis are endless. But with those endless possibilities comes the need for more and more data to be incorporated into a patient’s health record. Providers need the skills, processes and data infrastructure to capture, share and analyze the plethora of patient-generated health information without overwhelming their network.
Video technology: In the hospital and at home
Video has become an important format for educating patients about a variety of topics:
- What to expect during surgeries and other treatments.
- Medication protocols.
- Post-discharge dos and don’ts, such as driving and exercise restrictions, wound care, and nutrition.
- Tips for caregivers, such as how to transfer patients safely to/from a vehicle, bed or bathtub.
Providers can deliver patient care videos at the point of care or in the patient’s home via an online patient portal. Video cameras in desktop and laptop computers, tablets and smart phones also let patients connect with providers via two-way video. This telemedicine functionality is particularly useful for patients in rural or remote areas and for remote diagnostics of critical patients who can’t leave their homes. In some cases, video is being used among disparate providers, enabling e-consults between primary care providers and medical specialists.
High-performance network infrastructure is key
Patient engagement technologies require high-performance and secure data networks and WiFi access for mobile applications. In addition, data networks should:
- Have high capacity and be scalable for future growth.
- Deliver high-performance with low latency to support features such as HD video streaming and telemedicine applications.
- Be able to segment and prioritize different types of traffic to maximize the performance of each.
- Be diverse and redundant. Back-up and storage of medical data between multiple data centers will allow for disaster recovery and business continuity planning.
Existing technology infrastructures are not often optimized for handling and storing the vast amounts of data from patient engagement technologies. A better choice is Ethernet. It provides the capacity, reliability and scalability to support patient engagement technologies and critical applications and does so more cost-effectively than older technologies like T1 lines. With Ethernet inside and between provider offices, geographically dispersed locations function and feel like they’re part of one office.
Patient engagement technologies can put a huge capacity strain on legacy systems. Providers should upgrade their networks to provide the capacity needed to support the growing demands of these initiatives, and Ethernet provides that capacity.