The Digitally Empowered Patient – Engaged or Confused?

26 May 2016

While recent research indicates that doctors and patients agree digital is great for patient engagement, when we delve deeper it reveals that the plethora of different digital media also creates confusion, a sentiment echoed in conversations I’ve had with practitioners.

Accenture’s Patient Engagement Survey 2016 reveals a surge in adoption of digital-health technology, with the number of patients using social media or wearables for health trebling in some countries.

However it’s also revealed some paradoxes:

  • A disconnect between patients and doctors about the extent of patient access to digital health records. Doctors are concerned about the implications of full access on the doctor/patient relationship. Appropriate service design thinking would help resolve this, leading to mutual adoption and benefits.

Accenture blog graph

  • Twenty-five per cent of doctors in England feel that patients’ use of wearables may actually increase the cost of healthcare – almost as large as the 31 per cent who believe it will reduce healthcare costs.
  • Over half the countries surveyed showed a dip in patient perception that digital health technologies help them, a trend which is at odds with the proliferation of mobile health apps. The obvious question is ‘why?’ Is it mass disillusionment after the initial hype?

It may just be the different media – providing valuable new information also creates a flood of raw, unfiltered data, with no link to recommended actions. Interpretation falls to patients, who struggle to fully understand it, and drives them to consult their doctors who are also unprepared for this new task of guiding patients through a tsunami of data.

Some doctors are worried about patients consulting them about specific device readings or information viewed in isolation when there are questions regarding the product’s quality – how many are medical grade devices? Even if readings are not false, in the absence of filtering or decision support, patients may visit doctors unnecessarily.

To help resolve these paradoxes, I believe three approaches can help the healthcare industry penetrate the data flood:

  • Service design: anticipating how digital health innovations, and their combined use, should fit into patients’ and doctors’ lives – what needs to change, especially in terms of user interfaces, processes, training, incentives, culture, behaviour, and resources?
  • Intelligent patient platforms: collating digital-health information into a meaningful engagement channel, linked to existing healthcare services, so that readings or tools are not accessed in isolation.
  • Analytics: advanced analytics and decision-support systems, connected to healthcare sources, converting raw data into insights, giving both doctors and patients clearer results.

The accelerating spread of wearables and other digital patient tools represents a fantastic opportunity for patient engagement and ownership of their health and wellbeing, but we cannot simply assume that ‘benefits will flow’.

Other sectors, including retailers, banks and media innovators haven’t just created websites and apps loaded with content – they have designed ‘omnichannel’ models, mindful of avoiding gaps between the online and physical, to create seamless experiences. They have enriched their offerings with analytics-enabled insights, helping the consumer navigate through content, products and services.

My conversations with healthcare practitioners have also revealed concerns about how to overcome these issues – the potentially helpful prescription of digital technologies and the unintended side-effects, creating some confusion juxtaposed with empowerment and insight.

To resolve this and fully empower patients and doctors, I believe we need to draw on the experience of sectors who have effectively implemented advanced customer strategies, and apply the same approaches to digital-patient enablement.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts and experiences on this question.

David Champeaux is Managing Director of Healthcare Strategy at Accenture UK.

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