Social Distancing and the Power of Patient Engagement

David Bennett, CISM
CEO, pCare

It is impossible to look at the challenges people within the healthcare system are navigating in the face of COVID-19 and think we will emerge unchanged. What lessons are we learning today and what will we carry into the future of caring for patients? It’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

Most importantly, I hope we all emerge from the pandemic with an enduring appreciation for the professionalism, bravery and deep commitment to patient care that’s on full display from America’s health care workforce.

I believe that last week’s decision by CMS to temporarily authorize reimbursement for telehealth visits will reverberate long after we’ve built and deployed an arsenal that will allow us to view COVID-19 as a controlled threat.

CMS’s announcement was welcome news for those urgently seeking coping mechanisms for the COVID-19 pandemic as well as those who have long championed the benefits of telehealth. The need to protect patients and mitigate the spread of the virus put a bright spotlight on the benefits delivered by telemedicine, including reduced burden on patients, deeper reach into rural communities, and expanded capacity and efficiency for providers.

As telemedicine plays a larger role in how care is provided and collaborative care, I’ve been thinking about our work at pCare and how we can ensure the role of patient engagement in improving outcomes doesn’t get lost. When you think about it, social distancing is an object lesson of impactful patient engagement in action, highlighting for millions of Americans in a compressed timeframe how their individual choices and behavior has the power to improve health outcomes. Ensuring that telehealth-based health care interactions effectively leverage patient engagement will be an imperative moving forward, and a few elements I’ll be watching include:

  • Are we expanding our thinking about patient engagement? We must take patient engagement outside the four walls of health care settings, and thinking holistically about the entirety of the patient journey and how we support patients at each touchpoint.
  • Are we equipping patients with information to impact their own outcomes? What are our opportunities to help patients feel the same sense of impact they are feeling from practicing social distancing when it comes to managing conditions like diabetes or blood pressure? Are we incorporating the social determinants of health that often make advice like “eat right” and “exercise” easier said than done?
  • Are we equipping health teams with data or insights? In the midst of the crisis, health professionals are fighting to help their patients survive the pandemic and keep themselves safe. But their struggle reflects the day-to-day reality that few have time to sift through data gathered from patient engagement platforms and put it to good use. Takeaways must be clear to derive the benefits of good data.

Disease modeling makes it clear that the toughest weeks are ahead of us, making the top priority managing the increase in patients infected with COVID-19 and supporting the caregivers on the front lines of the epidemic. At this point, it’s difficult to envision how and when we will emerge from this acute stage of the pandemic.

While no one wants to get better at their jobs through an experience that comes with so much hardship and loss, I deeply trust that all those involved in healthcare will work hard to derive learnings from the experience and translate them into tangible improvements in how we care for patients.

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