Dr. Adrienne Boissy, the Cleveland Clinic’s chief experience officer

Here’s the tricky thing about patient engagement: It means something different to each patient. Further, when it comes to designing for patients, it’s important to remember the mantra Apple’s Steve Jobs lived by.

That’s the message shared by Dr. Adrienne Boissy, chief experience officer of the Cleveland Clinic, during a keynote session at the at the Pop Health Forum in Chicago on Tuesday.

“Patients, I think, define their own engagement,” Boissy, said. “Engaged in technology doesn’t equal engaged patients.”

Boissy knows this on a personal level, not just as a practicing neurologist and physician executive at a prestigious institution. She said that her stepfather died of leukemia about two weeks ago.

“Was he an engaged patient? He never logged on to his portal. He never cared what his labs were and he never got involved in his health on social media,” Boissy said. But she did on his behalf, so, by the measure of his family, he was engaged.

It’s also important to understand that some patients simply don’t want to be engaged, or they care more about old-fashioned notions such as reducing waiting than they do about technology.

“What are we doing to fix patient delays?” Boissy asked. She said that reducing waiting — for appointments, in the office, for results and diagnoses — is one of the most innovative things healthcare can do today, even though it’s addressing an age-old problem.

“I would submit to you that goal No. 1 has to be access,” Boissy said. Patients can’t be engaged if they can’t even get to the health system. She noted that Cleveland Clinic went to same-day ambulatory appointments about six years ago.

And she didn’t just mean access to care. Boissy said her definition includes access to information and people — convenient access. Not every attempt to reach out to people makes interaction convenient, so the Clinic also is working on integrating and simplifying its electronic touch points with patients.

“I just learned that the Cleveland Clinic has 22 apps, many of which have not been updated in years. That, to me, is not a seamless, cohesive digital platform,” Boissy said. This hodgepodge increases inconvenience and stress for patients and does not exactly help the brand, she noted.

“Interactive TVs are just another thing we can throw at people,” Boissy added. They need to be connected to the electronic health record so patients can see specifics about their own health on in-room screens.

Boissy, who chairs the Cleveland Clinic’s annual Patient Experience Summit, spoke of the importance of empathic design for patients. “If you were curious about their journey, you would design differently for them,” she said.

She then shared a quote from the late Steve Jobs: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.”

This led Boissy to question the “patient engagement” appellation. “Maybe we need to change the name of patient engagement,” she mused. “People engagement and relationship engagement are things I think about all the time.”

Indeed, it’s not just patients who crave satisfying experiences with the healthcare system. Clinician and caregiver burnout are rampant, as evidenced by the estimated 400 physicians who committed suicide in the U.S. last year, Boissy said.

Photo: Neil Versel/MedCity News

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Cleveland Clinic’s Boissy: Patient engagement is more than just a portal