In a market flooded with new technologies and apps that aim to make physicians’ jobs easier and patients more engaged with their health care, there is still a need for human interaction, according to speakers at the recent Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society 2015 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.

Mazi Rasulnia, co-founder of PACK Health; Lorren Pettit, vice president, market research, HIMSS Analytics; and Christina Hoffman, executive managing director, strategic integration and innovation, Medscape Education/WebMD, presented results from a survey of hospital chief information officers, primary care physicians and patients who had recently visited their physician. The survey revealed that patient engagement is increasing as more hospitals use patient portals, and that all stakeholders see the benefits of patient engagement, but that "notable differences exist" in the three groups’ definitions of, barriers to and responsibility for creating patient engagement.

Whereas CIOs felt that patient engagement is a technology issue, providers and patients believed that patient engagement is about physician-patient relationships.

CIO responses also indicated a sense of ownership around patient engagement because it is technology dependent, while providers felt patients need to take more responsibility for their care and outcomes. Conversely, patients felt providers need to be willing to spend more time with them during clinical encounters to facilitate patient engagement; for example, listening to patients talk about their health problems and treatment options and helping them to understand choices that are available for treatment or care.

As for barriers, CIOs cited the attitudes and expectations of providers and patients as roadblocks, while providers pointed to time demands and training, and patients felt provider’s time, or lack of it, was a barrier.

Patients are asking for help with navigating a complicated system, said Rasulnia of PACK Health, which provided the patient perspective in the study on patient engagement. He added that it is "important to provide access to patients," noting, however, that access and information "alone are not going to help them engage with health care professionals."

Further, the study indicates that both patients and providers see fostering engagement as part of the physician’s role, rather than that of a CIO, whereas CIOs see patient engagement conversations as driven by those with a technology focus.

Despite the disconnect in CIO, provider and patient perspectives, speakers at a another session suggested ways that CIOs can prove their value and remain relevant in a changing health care landscape. Gary Barnes, CIO, Medical Center Health System, Odessa, Texas, and Asher E. Kramer, director, strategic consulting, Leidos Health performed an analysis of strategic planning processes at 26 organizations  and suggested that CIOs and their health system information technology departments need to adapt to the transformation under way and make the transition from information management to a "knowledge-enabled organization."  The analysis also suggested that IT leaders should be knowledgeable, visible and engaged in the strategic vision, goals and challenges of the entire organization.

CEOs and boards need the CIO to have the knowledge and skills to lead planning and problem-solving across the organization and the health care community, according to the speakers.

Finally, to transform the traditional IT department from a cost center into a revenue driver and a strategic partner to the C-suite and board, Barnes and Kramer advised CIOs to begin with a solid and efficient IT infrastructure that has information management built into all systems to support the vision and strategic goals of the organization. This will position the CIO as the leader of the knowledge enabled organization.

It is "not about IT," Barnes said, adding, "it must be collaborative across the organization."

The study found that despite size and geographic location, each health care organization faced similar challenges, namely difficulty in implementing IT systems that will be meaningfully used by doctors and patients.

Doing a 360-review of various stakeholders — the board, patients, the business office — to see how IT can improve, can change IT leaders into "transformative leaders," Kramer said.  

Lea Radick (lradick@healthforum.com) is a staff writer for Trustee magazine.