The healthcare industry is fraught with a lot of buzzwords and jargon. There are so many acronyms — EMR, ACA, AMA, HHS, HIPAA, etc. — that it can be difficult to remember them all! 

A term bandied about often in healthcare over the past few years is patient engagement. The focus on this topic accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic as it markedly influenced how patients engage with their healthcare providers. 

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 

Promoting Improved Patient Outcomes 

As we discussed in a recent blog, patient engagement offers numerous perks for providers, from reduced costs and increased reimbursement to improved patient outcomes and operational efficiency, lower hospital readmission rates and enhanced population health initiatives. Healthcare organizations aren’t the only ones who benefit, though. Patients who are actively engaged with their provider(s) often better understand their health concerns, ask questions that matter to them, know how to access their medical records and are usually confident in weighing their options for care.  

If you want research to back these benefits, there’s plenty of it. For example, studies have shown that engaged patients have better outcomes and lower acute care use, but low levels of engagement are associated with more adverse events. Other studies have found that:

  • Focusing on patient engagement can improve efficiency, reduce out-migration and reduce overall costs of patient care.
  • Patient satisfaction is linked to greater market share, fewer malpractice claims and higher reimbursement rates.
  • Informed, engaged patients are likely to be more confident regarding their care and rehabilitation and to be satisfied with their overall experience and outcomes.
  • Strong patient and family engagement in clinical care contributes to a favorable experience as well as improved outcomes and lower costs.
  • Improved patient engagement helps to strengthen the trust between patients and their healthcare providers and has a direct impact on the overall patient experience. 

Even with this research, only 16 percent of healthcare organizations integrate patient feedback and preferences into clinical practices, despite the fact that 66 percent agree it’s important to do so. A majority of patients seem to want to be more active in their healthcare or already are. Approximately 80 percent of Americans who have access to the information in their electronic health records use it; a full two-thirds of those who don’t yet have electronic access say they want it. 

Essential Components of a Patient Engagement Strategy

Although some healthcare providers proactively strive to engage and empower patients, many don’t have a detailed and comprehensive patient engagement strategy to do so. Patient engagement isn’t just luck, though. It’s strategy. That’s why your patient engagement strategy should include some foundational components, including a vision and list of priorities, regular training for your staff — and patients, an assessment and application of patient communication preferences and the adoption of correlated digital health technology tools and services. 

Define the Vision

This vision should define and clarify the objectives and expectations of your patient engagement program along with a list of who is part of it and their specific roles. The vision also should be approved and agreed upon by all the stakeholders within your healthcare organization and shared with those it impacts. 

Another part of this component of your patient engagement efforts should include connecting specific tasks with your vision and creating a list of priorities for it. If possible, you should regularly assess if your patient engagement strategy still aligns with the goals you created as part of your initial program vision. 

Provide Patient Education 

It’s typical for healthcare organizations to train and educate their staff members about tools, technology and procedures they employ as part of their job. Extending that education and training to patients is essential for a successful engagement program. 

Here’s where that healthcare jargon we mentioned at the beginning of the blog comes into play. The education you provide to your patients should be simple, actionable and shareable. You should always take into account the health literacy of your patients because research shows that patients with low health literacy are less likely to utilize educational and other health tools than their more health literate peers. 

It’s also recommended that healthcare organizations utilize their assessments of patient activation levels and health literacy to inform their educational strategies. For example, a patient with higher activation and health literacy can absorb more complex information. 

Assess Your Patients’ Communication Preferences 

Patient portals are a valuable resource for many patients but often have low adoption rates. The Government Accountability Office GAO revealed that they’re used by less than one-third of patients. However, some patients prefer to receive their test results, appointment details and other information directly via text. 

Knowing your patients’ communication preferences is key to a successful patient engagement program because it allows you to engage them at the right time through the right channel with the right message. It’s this type of personalized messaging and communication that helps to improve health outcomes and improve patient satisfaction. Whatever method you use, it’s crucial to make all the necessary patient data accessible in a single location. 

Utilize the Appropriate Technology       

Digital health tools are an integral part of many healthcare practices. But, using the wrong patient engagement tools can provide more work for clinicians and their staff and add to their level of burnout. 

Specific engagement-related solutions used in patient engagement platforms include enrollment and consent, case management, patient adherence programs, portals, 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.

Digital tools such as HIPAA-compliant two-way texting bolster your patient engagement strategy by letting you keep up with your patient outside of in-office and virtual appointments. These messages can be used to remind patients to receive preventive care, monitor care plan adherence (especially for patients with chronic conditions), deliver population health campaigns, electronically send test results and more while decreasing incoming call volume and freeing your staff to more easily deliver better patient care. Plus, such tools provide you with analytics to, if necessary, adjust your patient engagement strategy. 

Customized Patient Engagement Strategies

There’s no one-size-fits-all program for patient engagement. Even if you’ve followed all these steps, you might need to change parts of your patient engagement strategy based on feedback from your staff members and patients. 

At Providertech, we offer scalable outreach platforms that use automated workflows to send text, voice and email messages, leading to improved outcomes and enhanced patient engagement. Schedule a demo with us to learn more!