An eye-opening revelation: 4 CIOs on surprising patient population trends

Four CIOs from hospitals and health systems across the country discuss information they've discovered from their respective patient populations and the most surprising revelations.

Q: What is one thing you've learned about your patient population that's really surprised you?

Christopher Longhurst, MD, MS. CIO and Associate CMO of Quality and Patient Safety at UC San Diego Health: How eager patients are to participate and be fully engaged in their own healthcare. Data from our EHR system has shown that our patients access the system more often every week and every month than our own staff and providers. Patients are an underutilized resource in healthcare today. An emphasis on transparency and access, enabled by health IT, is critical to helping patients take charge of their own health.

For example, we rolled out our Open Notes initiative to provide patients in our ambulatory settings with their provider's visit notes. The initiative, led by Marlene Millen, MD, CMIO of ambulatory and practice affiliations at UC San Diego Health, allows patients to make informed decisions and have better discussions about their healthcare.

To address access, our MyUCSDChart app helps anyone who downloads it to find urgent or express care locations with walk-in access and use our 'Save My Spot' feature at these locations. UC San Diego Health patients can also use the app to communicate with their care team, view test results — including all radiology results — manage prescriptions, view and pay bills and schedule different appointments and screenings, including annual mammograms.

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Peter Marks, PhD, CIO and Vice President at WakeMed Health & Hospitals (Raleigh, N.C.): In our deployment of electronic patient engagement tools where patients can work more directly with our health system, we found the patients that most often use this technology are over the age of 60. The conventional wisdom is that the younger population will be the primary consumer of patient engagement technology. They certainly use technology to engage. However, people of all ages want a deeper relationship with their healthcare team, and our population of patients over 60 is a prime consumer of electronic methods to engage with us.

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Philip Loftus, PhD, CIO at SSM Health (St. Louis): For me, what's most surprising about patients is how very interested they are in electronic access to their health record. It began years ago with lab test results. Next was the ability of our patients with chronic conditions to track results of their blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, etc., over time. Today, electronic access enables new functionality that allows our patients to easily schedule or re-schedule appointments, pay their bills or copays and securely message their doctor or other clinical staff. In fact, about half of our patients take advantage of electronic access to their health records, an amount that has exceeded my expectations.

Another surprise is that while you expect the millennials to be primary users of electronic records, which is definitely true, the second largest contingent is our older retired patients. It turns out seniors are much more sophisticated when it comes to technology and more likely to use it than many would suspect, and that's been an eye-opening revelation.

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Bernie Clement, CIO at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center (Thibodaux, La.): If you make healthy solutions accessible, they will utilize them. Our community is relatively small — 14,000 in Thibodaux — but our wellness center, which opened two years ago, has more than 5,000 members. We need to make healthy choices as easy as unhealthy ones.

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