I recently spoke to Mississippi Healthcare Executives, the Mississippi chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives. The purpose of my short session was to convince them to use MHA Connect, my association's online community. I could have focused on the fact that they could win an iPad if they logged on by June and our Leadership Conference. I could have explained that they have complete access to our online database on our smartphone app. I could have bribed them to log in to see all of the presentations from their two-day meeting. (And, OK, I did that too.)
But I spent most of my time explaining that they should go log on and see what the online community is all about because I could see (in the not so distant future) most of them managing people that manned similar online communities for their own hospitals and health care organizations. "The full potential of consumer e-health is far from realized and may not even yet be fully understood," Office of Consumer eHealth Director Lygeia Ricciardi and other Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT write in February's Health Affairs edition, dedicated to the "new era of patient engagement."
Online patient portals are growing. Even some of my own physicians are using them. But mostly just to distribute test results, not for any active kind of communication or engagement. (There is a difference between a patient portal and a patient community.) Patients with chronic conditions are often creating their own communities online to get the engagement they want and need. (So if you don't build it, they will come too. Just somewhere else, not to your website.)
Through Stage 2 meaningful use incentives, the ONC is furthering the idea of online patient enagement. Starting in October for hospitals and next January for eligible physicians, providers must have secure email available to patients, as well as offer ways to view, download, or share the information.
In its January report, Engaging Health Care Users: A Framework for Health Individuals and Communities, the American Hospital Association outlines the future of health care engagement as focusing on "current and emerging technologies that will facilitate patient, family and provider interactions; health education; treatments and overall engagement" and "social media and its role as a means to enhance communication and networking with individual and communities."
Sounds kind of just like an online community to me!