By Matthew Arnold, Principal Analyst

InformationWeek has a smart story fitting together all the pieces of the health IT policy and patient engagement puzzle. They look at the trend toward accountable care organizations (ACOs), wherein members are reimbursed for aggregate patient outcomes but cannot discriminate on the basis of health behaviors or force their patients to use in-network providers and services. This puts the onus on participating providers to keep their patients engaged through patient portals with stickiness that keeps them coming back like Amazon.com does. Sharp Healthcare CIO Bill Spooner tells InformationWeek:

Given I can't make them accountable, I've got to be able to attract them. I have to show them we're the most viable provider in town, so they want to come to us.

That's a marketing problem, notes editor David Carr:

Obviously, healthcare providers need to get lots of other things right in order to gain patient loyalty. But in terms of what an IT organization can do to steer things in the right direction, focusing on the patient-engagement experience becomes very important. In the online world, marketing and service delivery are one and the same.

The first part of the HITECH Act's Meaningful Use provisions incentivized EHR adoption, and our data shows that nearly four in five physicians are now using an EHR, which the piece cites as probably the most essential enabling technology for the transformation ACOs are meant to catalyze. Implementing EHRs has been a steep climb for most institutions, but it was, as Dean Health CIO David Lundal says in the piece, straightforward by contrast to the patient engagement measures providers must meet for Stage 2 of Meaningful Use, which is now getting underway. This new stuff, there is not a road map, says Lundal. It's more creative and inventive.

Pharmas, journals and websites for healthcare professionals aren't famed for their creativity, but they do know a thing or two about patient engagement and marketing. They'll find plenty of opportunities to partner with providers as they seek to keep their patient populations in the loop and out of the ER.

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