If you read reviews for a product in which you were interested and found that only 30 percent of surveyed users were satisfied with it, would you still buy it? Probably not, unless it was very cheap or there were no other options. 

One product meeting this scenario is healthcare in the United States. More than 70 percent of U.S. adults feel the healthcare system is failing to meet their needs in at least one way. Maybe that’s because 65 percent say coordinating and managing healthcare is overwhelming and time-consuming. 

At least the cost of care is affordable. Wait…what? That’s not the case for a lot of Americans. Annual healthcare spending has reached 4.3 trillion — that’s $12,914 per person annually. Patients in the U.S. continue to face rising health insurance deductibles and high out-of-pocket costs. 

The costs are so high that more than two in five adults have either skipped or delayed healthcare services within the past two years. Although 26 million people (7.9 percent of the population) are uninsured, even some with health insurance tend not to use it due to high deductibles and cost-sharing. 

Cost is not the only barrier to care for patients. Some Americans are not able to easily access healthcare because of unequal distribution of coverage, a widespread physician shortage, a lack of transportation, insufficient appointment availability and limited information about care sites. 

The Importance of a Solid Patient Engagement Strategy 

Many healthcare providers attempt to bridge this gap in care access through patient engagement. It can be described in a variety of ways, but true patient engagement has been defined as:

  • The knowledge, skills, ability and willingness of patients to manage their own and family members’ health and care
  • The culture of the healthcare organization that prioritizes and supports patient engagement
  • The active collaboration between patients and providers to design, manage and achieve positive health outcomes

There is no one-size-fits-all program for patient engagement, but a provider’s engagement strategy should include some foundational components, including a vision and list of priorities, regular training for staff and a culture of engagement. Other important components consist of an assessment and application of patient communication preferences and the adoption of correlated digital technology tools and services. 

Common Challenges to Patient Engagement 

Even with a solid patient engagement strategy, healthcare providers encounter obstacles. Some of the most common are low health literacy, a lack of transportation, patient education and/or price transparency and factors corresponding with social determinants of health (SDOH). 

Social Determinants of Health 

Some individuals are less likely to become engaged patients because of social determinants of health (SDOH), such as education, age or religious or cultural beliefs. Healthcare professionals should be mindful of these economic, social, cultural and geographic factors when developing patient engagement strategies and helping patients improve their confidence in making healthcare-related decisions. 

Low Health Literacy 

Patients with low health literacy may want to take control of their own health but might be unable to take the steps to do so. Having low health literacy has the potential to negatively affect patients by:

  • Reducing their overall health
  • Increasing their occurrence of and severity of illnesses
  • Lowering their levels of self-reported health
  • Demonstrating a higher prevalence of chronic conditions
  • Increasing their hospitalization and readmission rates
  • Producing a greater emergency care usage
  • Increasing their chance of taking medication doses incorrectly

To better engage patients with low health literacy, providers should be empathetic, utilize plain language, give actionable instructions and, if necessary, use visual aids. It is also recommended that they provide patients with basic health information that is relevant and useful to them. This empowers healthcare consumers to actively participate in their care and engage in shared decision-making. 

Lack of Price Transparency 

Healthcare price transparency helps consumers know the cost of a covered item or service before receiving care, but it seems elusive to many. That’s a key reason nearly 90 percent of Americans support strengthening price transparency requirements. 

Along with reducing the cost of healthcare, price transparency has the potential to provide numerous perks to patients and providers, including real-time online access to estimated out-of-pocket costs, enhanced patient engagement and reduced market prices for various procedures. It also helps patients make more educated healthcare purchasing decisions and be more aware of their payment responsibility to their provider. 

The Positive Results of Patient Engagement 

When healthcare providers are able to address and aid in overcoming these barriers to patient engagement, numerous advantages are achieved. For example, patients engaged with their providers often better understand their health concerns, ask questions that matter to them, know how to access their medical records and are typically confident in weighing their options for care.  

Patient engagement also is important for improved outcomes. Research has linked higher levels of patient engagement to the greater use of preventive care, less smoking and obesity, more positive rankings of relationships with providers, less delay in seeking care, greater awareness of treatment guidelines, improved clinical indicators and a reduced number of hospital and emergency visits and lower hospital readmission rates. Engaged patients are three times less likely to have unmet medical needs and twice as likely to seek care promptly when compared to those who aren’t active participants in their care. 

How do healthcare providers benefit by engaging their patients? Patient engagement has not only been linked to substantially reducing healthcare costs but also increases reimbursement, improves operational efficiency and enhances population health initiatives. 

Proactive patient engagement strategies drive population health goals and promote better health outcomes by encouraging patients to adhere to their care plan. It enables healthcare providers to more easily identify patients at risk for chronic disease and offer them the resources to improve their outcomes. Combining patient engagement with population health management also allows providers to customize their care for those patients using an approach based on their preferences and social determinants of health. 

How Digital Tools Boost Patient Engagement 

Specific engagement-related solutions used in patient engagement platforms include enrollment and consent, case management, patient adherence programs, assistance with appointments and scheduling, mobile health monitoring, telehealth and advocacy. They enable clear and timely communication between providers and their patients and help to close any gaps in care

The best digital health tools enable providers to promote patient interaction and engagement without taking more time out of their daily workflow. For patients, digital health tools are beneficial because they help improve access to care and can be used by patients from various backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. These tools also provide physician practices with analytics to adjust their patient engagement strategy as needed.

A prime example of a digital health tool that promotes patient engagement — while contributing to population health management — is HIPAA-compliant, two-way text messaging. It allows providers and their staff to easily and securely send patients automated text messages to remind them about an upcoming appointment and their care plan guidelines. In a study of 2,742 patients, text messages doubled the likelihood of medication adherence among patients with chronic diseases. 

Learn how your physician practice can utilize Providertech’s HIPAA-compliant two-way text messaging solution to reduce no-shows and cancellations and provide patients with appropriate, accurate and up-to-date information about treatment and safety issues in a user-friendly language and format. Contact us today!