At the end of our most recent "Connecting the Continuum" article (a yearlong H&HN series), the venerable Paul Tang, M.D., says "You have to engage people not by just giving them numbers, but by giving them something that can help manage their own health."

Tang, vice president and chief innovation and technology officer at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, is passionate about the topic. He's worked on various patient engagement studies for AHRQ and chairs a federal working group advising CMS on meaningful use standards, which have increasingly required that hospitals and physicians adopt technology to promote patient engagement.

During the past year or so, patient engagement has been elevated in importance. A report issued earlier this year by the AHA's Committee on Research dubbed it a "game changer." Importantly, the report notes that hospitals and health systems "can serve as laboratories for developing, testing, learning and disseminating new engagement practices. The impact of this type of engagement and the role that hospitals can play in leading this transformative element of system design in their own communities are foundational for achieving the Triple Aim in health care."

As evidenced by programs at Palo Alto and North Shore-LIJ, both profiled in our "Connecting the Continuum" article, IT serves as a cornerstone to effective patient engagement. In an increasingly digital and mobile world, health care providers need to figure out ways to connect to patients on their terms, not the other way around. As we reported last October, patients are likely to feel more in control of their care if they are better engaged and better informed.

Unfortunately, there are still significant gaps. Deloitte Center for Health Solutions' 2013 survey looking at physician adoption of health IT found that most doctors still lag in using online patient support tools. For instance, just 37 percent of physicians with a Stage 1-certified EHR communicate with patients via email or text. Only 30 percent direct patients to online health content.

The National eHealth Collaborative, a public-private partnership established by an ONC grant, developed a Patient Engagement Framework, a sort of blueprint for providers. It's a good starting point for hospitals that may be just starting down this path.