Are Patients at the Center or the Middle?

Our friends at Triple Tree, an investment banking and advisory firm, focus a great deal of their energy on health care technology, e-health and mobile health. They publish great reports and blog posts, and one in particular recently caught my eye.

In the post, the writer Seth Kneller makes an apt point about healthcare’s manipulation of the idea of patient-centered care. I’ve noted before that mainstream healthcare does all it can do to turn the patient into, if you will, feedstock for its processes. Kneller elegantly states that the providers and payers (and I would suggest many of the vendors too):

“…have largely focused their businesses ‘around’ the consumer rather than ‘to-the-consumer’.”


We’ve all seen those diagrams with a patient surrounded by rings of provider teams, technologies, institutions, payers and governments. Which on the surface looks good: the patient is now at the middle. The problem is that most of the technologies that enable this scenario— automation, low-cost processing—don’t engage the patient any more than before. These diagrams depict patient-centered care as interpreted by a system that would rather not give the patient too much say.

When we talk about patient engagement, we really should be addressing how a patient is not just in the middle but at the center. In this construct, she is empowered to manage her care, make wise decisions and communicate with the team and network she wants.

Making this happen requires an attitudinal—even cultural—shift on the part of providers and technology developers. And while Kneller notes that many in the mainstream are beginning to recognize this, he also states that “…most vendors have extremely limited experience in identifying, accessing and directly engaging the consumer demographic they wish to target.” I would add that the user experiences of the technologies that are used to deliver patient-centered care are equally ill equipped to engage patients.

For patient engagement to become a reality, we need to give patients tools that guide instead of overwhelm. We need to ask patients what they want. We need to be committed to putting them at the center.

About the Author
Steven Ferguson

Steven Ferguson is the Chief Operating Officer at Hello Health, the complete Cloud-Based EHR, Practice Management System and Patient Portal, that helps practices be more efficient and increase patient engagement.