The Opportunity to Use Technology to Effectively Engage Family & Friends

Promoting patient-provider relationships and patient engagement in one’s own health care delivery are two topics that often come up for current discussion. I believe both are necessary for quality patient health outcomes. However, establishing a patient-provider relationship and engaging the patient are both areas that require continuous efforts from the providers and the patients. We as health care professionals are responsible for educating patients and their families about the patient’s health condition. Yet, the patient (and family) is also responsible for ensuring an understanding of his or her health condition, as well as asking questions to clarify the disseminated information.

In the past, I’ve had family members who have been ill and hospitalized. When this has occurred, we (as a family) are all frantically calling one another asking what has happened, how is he or she doing, what does something mean, or just simply not being sure how to gain current access to the family member’s status. This is a lot for the patient (e.g. family member), immediate family member at the bedside, and the health care team to manage on a daily basis – especially when you have a large involved family. At times, my family has been told there must be one family member who will be the direct point of contact and be responsible for updating everyone on what is going on with the patient. For everyone else – who isn’t that point of contact- there is a sense of helplessness and curiosity that is never quite satisfied with the disseminated information. Additionally, we never really know when it is a good time to visit the patient. While visiting hours might be during a standard time frame, the patient and our family member, may not be up for the visit.

All of this leads me to thinking about the potential role of available technologies in health care delivery. Recently, I’ve been wondering about the various consumer oriented internet outlets (e.g., more commonly known as social media) and their target audiences. Additionally, what type of information is shared through these outlets and for what purpose? This led me to think, is there a role for these technologies in the delivery of health care? I am not suggesting a Facebook-type outlet that is published to a large audience. However, I am wondering about the possibility for creating private pages or sites that are secure for the patient and the friends & family members who are granted access. Such a site would allow for updates to communicate amongst the patient, friends, and family to keep individuals informed, as well as reduce the volume of questions, phone calls, and incorrect dissemination of the patient’s condition.

The obvious question is – whose role is this to maintain and facilitate? Is it the health care team or the patient? Right now, I would say it is being done by the patient’s family through group emails or using sites such as Caring Bridge. I say this because it is something I see and have seen in the past between my own family and friends. Yet, is there the opportunity to create a partnership between the provider (e.g., nurse, nurse practitioner, physician) and the patient or immediate family? I would say yes. This partnership could work on the message to be sent to the family together to ensure the patient and family’s understanding of the condition while also ensuring that the information is appropriate to be disseminated across the health care team.

I see this as a thought worth exploring at the current moment. I am not suggesting that this manifest into reality tomorrow. However, we have significant tools available to help communicate and share information. We may have an opportunity to utilize them to build the patient-provider relationship as well as ensure that the patient feels engaged in their own care. I look forward to seeing what the future holds in leveraging the available tools that can facilitate more consistent exchange of information.