Engage: Blog

Jane Lowers | Aug 2015 | 0 COMMENT(S)

Putting information at the point of decisionmaking is a key strategy to empower individuals and motivate behaviors. In patient engagement, that can mean the waiting room or exam room, in printed materials or online. The web has become a natural home for information that can help patients make informed decisions when choosing a health care provider or an insurer; starting in 2016, HealthCare.gov will include quality ratings along with price for consumers choosing health plans, as several state Marketplaces already do. But increasingly, thinking in terms of the web alone is not enough. To engage patients at the point of decision, it’s essential to think mobile.

My family has first-hand experience: At 4:45 on a Friday afternoon, my wife called me from her father’s hospital room in a part of the state neither of us knows well. She had a list of rehab facilities given to her by a social worker, 15 minutes to make appointments to visit them, and until Monday morning to decide where he should go for several months of physical and occupational therapy. From my phone, I looked up NursingHomeCompare.gov, gave her a rundown on the short-term care ratings for each facility, and sent her a link to a checklist she could take along for each visit. By the next afternoon, we felt we had a good option.

Many such decisions are made in a hurry and away from home, and the demographics of how Americans interact with online information are changing: 90% of American adults own a cell phone, and more than two-thirds own a smartphone, according to Pew Research Center. Those figures are highest among some of the most vulnerable populations: youth and minorities. Increasingly, mobile-based internet isn’t just a convenient add-on to a phone – for 15% of Americans ages 18-29, it’s a primary means of getting online. Twelve to 13% of African Americans and Latinos rely on smartphones for online access, compared with 4% of whites. Mobile also offers online access to health care consumers when they might not be able to reach a desktop: in a doctor’s office, choosing a hospital for surgery; in a hospital room, searching for a rehab facility or nursing home for a loved one.

Thinking about mobile access matters even more as search algorithms change. Google now assesses websites’ mobile-friendliness before displaying search results to mobile device users. If a site isn’t mobile-friendly, it might not show up at all. The Leapfrog Group and a number of other entities that offer ratings of quality and safety now design their websites with mobile in mind so that everyone – at their desk or on the move – has the same access to information that can help them make smart choices about health care.

Making web-based information mobile-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean a complete redesign. Googleoffers a tool to test your site for mobile-friendliness and tips for making improvements. Some minor adjustments — like focusing on high-traffic pages, incorporating responsive design so that pages resize in common screen formats, and letting users input information by scrolling through options rather than typing – can be enough to make sure your information can help patients engage whenever and wherever it matters to them.

Jane Lowers is a researcher at AIR and is conducting her master’s capstone research on end-of-life care priorities.