Patient engagement initiatives are a dime a dozen across healthcare organizations. From patient advisory groups and patient-centered portals to social media outlets and secure messaging, healthcare organizations understand that it’s important to get patients involved in their care. Studies prove that engaged patients result in better outcomes, lower costs, and a higher quality of life.
A 2017 Deloitte survey revealed that while most healthcare organizations have patient engagement programs, nearly 50% felt they were only moderately or not at all mature.
Perhaps many patient engagement programs fail because they neglect to connect with patients in a way that is meaningful to them. Sure, your practice is checking off the patient engagement boxes. But, are your patient engagement strategies actionable and relevant to the people you are dedicated to caring for?
Traditional forms of mass media campaigns are impersonal and don’t directly communicate with patients in a way that resonates with them. Imagine you’re a patient who is diagnosed with a life-changing chronic illness, such as diabetes. Your experience or knowledge with diabetes could range anyway from completely unfamiliar to a deep understanding based on a family member’s experience. Your doctor gives you a brief summary of what it is and how it affects you, but it’s a little overwhelming. On your way out, you receive a pamphlet but you have so many questions running through your head:
How will this affect my day-to-day life?
What do I have to do differently?
What are my treatment options?
Will insurance cover what I need to get healthier?
Is this a life sentence?
With access to technology, patients understandably expect the doctor’s office to be a place that they can find answers and solutions that allow them to actively manage their well-being. In order for that to happen, healthcare providers need to implement convenient, customized, and accessible patient engagement strategies that equip patients to make decisions in their health.
What does an engaged patient look like?
Patients who are engaged in their care are invested in taking an active role in making decisions that lead to a healthier life. Engaged patients:
Understand their health concerns
Ask questions that matter to them
Are confident in weighing their options
Know how to access their medical records
Monitor and discuss their symptoms and health experiences
Basically, engaged patients believe they play an important role in living a healthy life and they know what to do to ensure they can.
While some patients who are educated and know where to seek help may reach out for the information they need and want, not everyone has the same opportunity to be fully engaged. Things like geographic location, social environment, income, and other social determinants of health (SDOH) can affect how engaged patients may be.
So, how can your care team effectively engage your patient populations in ways that are valuable to your patients, regardless of their health status or socioeconomic background?
Engage patients beyond office visits.
Patients only spend a few hours a year in the doctor’s office. Their remaining 5,000 hours in a year are spent at home, work, or in the community. Left unengaged, patients can do a lot with those hours to completely derail their health and wellness.
But engaging patients outside of the doctor’s office doesn’t mean simply sending appointment reminders to encourage them to come in for annual visits. While that’s important, the reality is that many patients know you have quality targets to meet that include getting them in for preventative care. Although you have the best of intentions to keep your patients healthy, appointment reminders do little to engage patients because they come across as, “I need you to do this for me”, instead of, “I care about how you’re doing and want to help.”
Patients want to know that you care about how they feel on a random Tuesday. That’s why effective patient engagement requires multiple touchpoints throughout your patient’s day-to-day life. A communication strategy that considers what’s important to your patients before, during, and after their office visit can help you deliver more personalized engagement tactics that motivate patients to take active roles in their care.
Consider sending emails or text messages to your patients that ask them things like, “How are you feeling today?” Or, “Have you experienced any the following symptoms?” This kind of clinical-based messaging is relatable to patients. They’ll be more likely to pay attention when they see a symptom they’re feeling listed in a text and respond accordingly.
In fact, this creates a sense of urgency for patients who recognize a symptom that they are experiencing which can lead them to take action. It also gives your care team an opportunity to tailor resources for your patients based on what they’re experiencing. Not every symptom requires an office visit but perhaps you can direct them to a Frequently Asked Questions video that will help them address what they’re dealing with.
If they aren’t feeling any symptoms, they’ll still benefit from the check-in, as it builds trust and confidence in the patient-provider relationship.
Once engaged, you’ll notice your patients will:
Set their own goals based on what is important to them
Take action to improve habits because they understand the impact they have on their health
Follow care plans because they believe there is value in doing so
Where to Start
If you’re ready to mature your patient engagement strategy, you need to start thinking about how you connect with your patients in a way that’s valuable to them. To start, consider the following:
Who are your patients?
What do they need?
How can we provide services that matter to them?
What technology solutions can you leverage to communicate with them regularly?
Once you know who your patients are and what they’re personally struggling with, then you can start leveraging technology to automate and scale patient communications that are meaningful, relevant, and effective for providers and patients alike.