A patient engagement platform: making it a success

A patient engagement platform: making it a success

February 26, 2021

Inga Shugalo

Healthcare Analyst

Turbulent due to the pandemic, 2020 was tough on healthcare systems, let alone clinicians. By the end of the year, virtually all medical practitioners in the US reported a decrease in their income, according to Medscape’s report on physicians’ COVID-19 experience in 2020:

US clinicians' income reduction

In this unstable situation, each patient is at a premium. Logically, to retain existing patients and acquire new ones, providers look at healthcare software development wondering which solution would make the best choice. Each of them has its pros and cons, so providers often decide to go for a comprehensive tool—a patient engagement platform. Let’s try to figure out why.

Patient engagement platforms: some Q&As

A patient engagement platform is a tool that enables patients to connect with their care providers via their preferred channel—a mobile device, a tablet, or a computer. It patches the gap between providers and patients and keeps the latter involved in their care even outside of a hospital.

However, here comes a question. For years, providers have struggled to make digital health available to their patients. They deployed patient portals, mobile apps, health wearables, and turned to telehealth software development and custom healthcare app development to engage their patients. So was it all in vain? No, it was not.

Patient engagement tools have it all to deliver quality care from anywhere, anytime. Each tool has gained popularity among certain patient populations. However, a critical situation like the pandemic makes amends.

First of all, it’s the lack of time and the tremendous workload providers are facing. These days, they need to deliver care to all groups of patients, even those who have never shown up before. Hence, there’s no time to wait till patients find the digital solution they like most.

Besides, even though directly communicating about digital services availability is a powerful driver of end users’ adoption of patient engagement solutions, in the heat of the pandemic it’s not always possible to consult patients on top of the actual care provision.

At the same time, engaging patients in independent health management is critical. After all, engaged patients who make informed decisions about their health may reduce clinicians’ workload, allowing them to deliver due care to the hospitalized.

Fortunately, there is a workaround, consisting in collecting the most relevant features of popular engagement tools in one place—an easy-to-use platform. But how to make sure such a tool becomes successful? This requires some consideration, the understanding of patient engagement technology, and due preparations.

The new patient’s profile

The pandemic has changed not only clinical settings but also patients’ behavior and needs. In the new normal, patients have grown more self-conscious. eMarketer reports that about 80% of US adults are positive about wearing fitness wearables. The source projects a 10 million growth in health wearable users in only four years:

US adults using wearables in 2020-2024

Today, health wearables are not limited to fitness trackers. Wearable blood pressure and ECG monitors have already become common. Besides, in 2020, Apple released Apple Watch 6 and introduced a bulk of new features, including a blood oxygen saturation monitor. Such specifics make health wearables full-scale medical devices.

Given the steadily growing number of wearable users, we may conclude that modern patients are turning into responsible decision-makers who are ready to manage their health independently. In other words, they are gradually evolving from patients to healthcare consumers. So how can providers nurture their interest in health management? A balanced strategy is required.

Drafting a strategy

To work out an actionable plan, providers need to look at the groups of patients their practice is handling. Patient segmentation may work well here.

As a rule, there are four distinct types of patients. They differ in terms of their attitude to health management, technologies, and preferred communication channels, being advanced, moderately progressive, traditional, or indifferent. To facilitate onboarding for as many patients as possible, providers need to make sure their digital offer covers the technological preferences of the four key segments. Here’s how an industry expert puts it:

We’re advising providers take this opportunity to offer a holistic, digital approach that centers on the patient’s access to quality care and post-care services. This will better position… for long-term growth.

Jean-Pierre Stephan

Jean-Pierre Stephan

Managing Director at Accenture Health

Digital channels defined, providers may proceed with strategizing. Here are four basic steps to arrive at a working strategy, according to Deloitte:

Patient engagement strategy

The first step centers on setting up a new digital environment. It’s advisable to turn to healthcare cloud computing. These tools are easily scalable. Besides, vendors may activate additional security mechanisms, thus upscaling personal data protection. To keep the environment secure at all times, providers may partner up with their vendor or set up an in-house information security team. In any case, providers should launch employee training to make sure clinicians know the best practices of secure cloud operation well and follow them.

Last but not least, cloud-based platforms can be deployed fast. Hence, providers can set off with patient engagement strategies of choice without delays, which is critical amidst the pandemic. The most important task at this point is to enable smooth integration with providers’ systems to allow patients to view and manage their health data.

With the foundation established, providers can proceed with stabilization, which consists in evaluating the engagement process and fine-tuning the offer to improve targeting and speed up user onboarding. The third and fourth strategic steps are focused on optimizing the existent processes and drafting the plan for steady improvement through insightful analytics.

Evidently, deploying a successful engagement platform is not a one-time effort but a continuous process. What’s more, it should be flexible enough to adapt to meaningful changes in users’ behavior on the go.

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Under the hood of a patient engagement platform

Effective patient engagement implies that doctors and patients act like partners in treatment, each having certain rights and responsibilities. Therefore, a patient engagement tool should be equally helpful for both sides, working as a marketing and services platform for the key user roles.

Integrated platform

Patient-facing features

A patient engagement platform unites the features of diverse engagement tools that meet patients’ expectations best. These are:

  • Integration with the implemented EHR solution and CRM for healthcare.
  • In-built communication tools. This feature allows patients to reach out to their provider 24/7. For this matter, a chatbot makes an optimal solution. These virtual assistants, representing one of the embodiments of natural language processing in healthcare, can respond to patients’ questions in a comprehensible language or refer them to a relevant specialist. For example, teledermatology apps can use chatbots linked with medical image analytics tools to triage patients based on their images, videos, and symptoms logs. 
  • Scheduling a real or virtual visit via a telehealth solution integrated with the platform or a virtual hospital.
  • Patient education. Some engagement platforms made it one of their key competitive benefits. For instance, BuddyHealthcare provides educational videos for diverse stages of a hospital stay associated with a surgery. Using their mobile app, patients may consult on medication, fasting, post-operation exercises, and more.
  • Patient-generated health data (PGHD) integration into EHR. With the use of healthcare wearables gradually expanding, enhancing the offer with secure storage and analytical tools dealing with patient data may upscale platform adoption. Besides, the data collected by patients may offer some insights to clinicians and speed up diagnostics. Providers can also make an extra step and offer their patients a wellness platform. This effort can also help engage healthy people who use their services.
  • Reminders and alerts to inform patients on scheduled visits and procedures, some preventive measures they may take, and more.

The features above are must-haves for the patient-centered section of a platform. However, in case a provider believes they may do more for patient engagement, they can adopt either a broader or narrower focus.  

A step up

The way you decide to go the extra mile depends on the two factors—patients’ needs and your desired outcomes.

For example, Children’s Mercy from Kansas, MO, teamed up with GetWellNetwork and deployed a complex patient engagement platform. The tool provides all-round patient education for children of all ages and their families. As it’s a children’s hospital, educational tools involve numerous quizzes and games, and that’s not the limit

Anything that touches the patient that they would want to be able to have access to, we work with. We have contracts with all of the health IT vendors and are always adding more, and all the educational resources so we can get the best of everything.

Dr. Karen Drenkard

Dr. Karen Drenkard

Chief Clinical & Nursing Officer at GetWellNetwork

Deloitte has taken up a narrower focus. In February 2020, the team rolled out a specific platform aiming to meet the challenges of clinical trial management. MyPath for Clinical is a modular cloud-based platform powering hybrid and digital clinical trials. The tool allows patients to take part in trials without disrupting their daily routines. It brings together vendor-agnostic PGHD support and home-based diagnostics via a telemedicine app, which spares patients the need to travel to trial sites. Patients can use their own digital devices to report their data to the site team and obtain a set of personalized recommendations and suitable educational materials. Experts believe the platform may contribute to modernizing recruitment methods, lowering dropout rates, and improving patient support.

Thus, regardless of the focus, patient-facing features are there to engage users with mobile compatibility, 24/7 assistance, and personal health data-based insights.

Provider-facing features

Though patients may manage their health independently, providers have to be able to monitor the process to prevent potential health hazards. This requires efficient data analytics solutions.

With the help of healthcare predictive modeling solutions, providers can apply patient-generated health data to make proactive decisions. This effort offers a two-sided benefit. First of all, it may prevent health deterioration in due time. Second, valid predictions may improve engagement and treatment adherence.

At this point, providers may take a step forward combining population health management and predictive analytics. They can stratify their patient populatiWith the help of healthcare predictive modeling solutions, providers can apply patient-generated health data to make proactive decisions. This effort offers a two-sided benefit. First of all, it may prevent health deterioration in due time. Second, valid predictions may improve engagement and treatment adherence.ons by their degree of engagement, conditions, risk factors, and social determinants of health to define patient personas. Then they can design laser-focused notifications to deliver health predictions and power further engagement.

There’s one more analytical task for providers to fulfill: to monitor the platform performance. To check it, providers need to prepare surveys and questionnaires and launch them via the platform regularly. This data helps understand success and failures and facilitates designing further platform improvements for better engagement and retention.

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In a nutshell

Developing a successful patient engagement platform is a complex task. However, with a careful strategy and clear understanding of the tool specifics, it is manageable.

First, the tool success requires due preparations. Providers need to define their patients’ profiles to clearly understand their needs and interests that may drive platform adoption.

Second, there’s no need to deploy all features at once. At the initial stages, it’s enough to go for the key features that are critical for patient engagement:

  • Smooth integration with the EHR system
  • PGHD support
  • Communication tools
  • Device-agnostic availability

Then providers may add more features incrementally, relying on the results of regular user surveys.

Finally, a successful platform should be equally beneficial for patients and providers, which requires powerful analytical solutions providing personalized health tips for patients as well as patient population ideas for providers. In this case, patients and providers can establish a valuable partnership easier and faster.