Patient engagement is a buzzword in the healthcare industry, but practices that implement strategies in this area have a distinct advantage. The needs and demands of patients are rapidly changing. Patients searching for new doctors increasingly rely on the factors of convenience, cost, and reputation, according to a recent Deloitte study. All three of these elements are tied closely to a patient engagement solution.
Engagement also plays an important role in a person’s overall health. The statistics on chronic disease in the U.S. population are staggering. Studies show that half of all adults – 117 million people – have one or more chronic health conditions. Patients who are disengaged are twice as likely to defer care and three times more likely to have health needs that aren’t actively being addressed.
Establishing a patient engagement roadmap for your practice allows you to serve evolving patient needs and promote stronger growth in the healthcare practice.
What is Patient Engagement, Really?
Patient engagement in healthcare refers to patients being as informed as possible about their treatment options, medications and all other aspects of the healthcare system that supports them. Patient engagement involves “providers and patients working together to improve health,” as noted in a report from the Healthcare Information and Management Society. When patients are engaged correctly, a variety of benefits result, including:
- Improved outcomes in patient care.
- Increased patient satisfaction.
- Reduced costs for patients, providers and the entire healthcare system.
- Deeper relationships between patients and providers that improve retention and referral rates.
An engaged patient isn’t afraid to ask questions about treatment options, stays up-to-date on their health needs and collaborates with the practice on their care. Additionally, this patient is willing and eager to provide the practice with feedback on existing strategies and how the practice can do better.
Developing a Vision For Patient Engagement
Consider setting a baseline for the state of your practice today and what you want patient engagement to look like in the future. This vision might include a variety of strategies and tools, such as the following:
- Providing the ability to schedule an appointment online. Allow patients to view details about their health, such as medical records and test results, in a single online portal.
- Empowering patients with information to better collaborate with providers. Focusing on tools that put relevant details into the hands of patients allows them to come to appointments with questions and collaborate to determine the best way forward.
- Providing flexibility to fund care. Allowing patients to easily pay bills online and set up flexible payment options when needed can reduce financial worry.
- Engaging in the ways that people prefer. The needs of patients are changing, and spending time making phone calls isn’t desirable for most patients. They prefer to get 24/7 access to the details they need and to receive more personalized and meaningful communication.
Once you get clear on your vision for patient engagement, the next step is to focus on establishing a plan that brings that vision to light. Staying connected to patients and learning more about their pain points can help you more effectively deliver on those needs.
Establishing a Plan For Your Practice
The best way to understand patient engagement is to start talking with patients. How do they prefer to communicate? How do they want to interact with their healthcare providers? And what needs do they have that aren’t being met by your practice? Understanding the answers to these questions can help shape not only your vision but also your plan to meet those needs. A few patient engagement strategies for developing a plan include the following:
- Create a timeline. Once you determine the vision and the goal, it’s helpful to outline the initiatives and create a timeline for implementation. Start communicating with patients and let them know that you’re listening and that new tools are on the way to better support their health.
- Develop a process for implementing tools. Regardless of which tools you decide to implement, consider rolling out those resources in stages. For example, a practice might decide to roll out a patient portal first and then follow up with an easy payment solution.
- Partner with staff to successfully achieve engagement. Staff is a critical element in deploying any engagement strategy or technology. Define each staff member’s role and develop a plan that outlines tasks associated with this strategy. For example, if you plan to make patient records available through the online portal, who is responsible for uploading those records? Who will engage with patients to let them know about the new feature? Define these critical roles upfront.
Once you understand what elements are most important to patient engagement and you put a care plan in place, consider what technologies or tools will support these goals and make the results more impactful.
Identifying Engagement Tools and Technologies
Technologies and tools are important resources for practices working to improve engagement rates. The New England Journal of Medicine recently conducted a survey that offered interesting insights on a few tools that help support patient engagement.
SMS appointment reminders. Seventy-seven percent of healthcare executives that were surveyed reported that SMS appointment reminders were the most effective tools for patient engagement. SMS reminders also help prevent any missed appointments and no-shows that cost the U.S. healthcare system an average of $150 billion per year, costing practices around $200 per unused time slot.
Social media as a patient education tool. Ninety-nine percent of respondents acknowledged that social networks are potentially helpful in healthcare delivery, such as chronic disease management. Connections fostered through social media can help deliver critical information, encourage patient engagement and increase healthy behaviors.
A large burden and worry for patients is how to pay for healthcare. In fact, half of U.S. adults report that they or a family member either did not use healthcare services or relied on alternative treatment in the past year due to worry about the cost of care. In addition, one in eight said their medical condition got worse as a result. Paying for healthcare is a real concern.
Patients can feel frustrated when a provider’s payment options don’t work for their situation. In contrast, a provider that offers flexible payment terms and a 100 percent credit approval rate is ideal because it’s inclusive of all patients who require payment assistance. A care plan that allows patients to finance directly through the practice builds greater engagement and feels more helpful and personal.