Patient engagement includes all actions that encourage patients to participate in managing and improving their own health. As global digitalization has spread across all industries lately, most healthcare providers have included patient engagement solutions in their strategies.
Why patient engagement is important
Patient engagement benefits not only individual patients who become directly engaged in their health, but also providers and society as a whole.
Increased patient satisfaction and loyalty
According to WHO, patients want to have enough knowledge about their own health to be able to make informed decisions. The level of their involvement in managing their healthcare, easy access to their personal health data, and the quality of communication with medical professionals greatly affect their satisfaction with a particular healthcare provider. Patients are more inclined to trust and remain in touch with those providers who enable them to be proactive in handling their own health.
Getting ahead of the competitors
SuperOffice has conducted research that showed 86% of customers are willing to pay more for services if they get a great customer experience. Healthcare services are no exception. Good patient engagement strategies typically make patients more satisfied with their provider and thus less likely to switch to the competitor’s services.
However, patient retainment isn’t a single business benefit of engagement. Patient engagement strategies are greatly interlinked with marketing strategies, as it helps build a positive public image for health organizations and individual practitioners, expand the number of touchpoints to convert new patients, and inform patients about the scope of services they can receive. Therefore, boosted by other marketing techniques, patient engagement helps healthcare businesses to grow their patient base and profits.
Better patient outcomes and fewer complications
Engaged patients can better understand their condition, which allows them to adhere to the treatment accurately and communicate with the healthcare provider more clearly. This, in the long run, leads to faster and more successful outcomes and longer remission periods. Patient engagement strategies also usually include monitoring measures that allow providers to spot health risks early on and prevent illness or condition deterioration.
It’s also hard to overestimate the educational value of patient engagement. Easy access to information on healthcare topics (especially if it’s prepared in a comprehensive way for the general public) contributes to more health-literate people. UNESCO states that education positively correlates with a population’s wellness and encourages educational strategies to include health information.
Reduced care costs
Due to the fact that engaged patients experience fewer complications, the number of admissions to the ER is reduced, with providers putting less pressure on their medical staff and requiring smaller facilities to accommodate hospitalized patients. There also will be fewer no-shows that take up personnel’s time that could’ve been dedicated to caring for other patients. Additionally, if patients can consult medical professionals via digital channels without coming to their office, organizations can save on office space.
Lowering expenses for healthcare providers means more affordable care for patients, thus increasing the percentage of people who can get medical attention. This makes digital patient engagement crucial for public health improvement strategies.
Popular digital channels for patient engagement
Before 2019, most people came to visit their healthcare providers in person. However, after the COVID outbreak, call centers and digital channels became preferable for safety reasons. Even now, when the peak of the pandemic seems to be over, people still habitually use them.
Millennials and younger generations, who prefer texting over phone calls, contribute to the rising popularity of digital channels of interaction with medical professionals. Millennials also take up a large percentage of patients that communicate with health providers frequently, as they are more in tune with what their body and mind need, but are also more prone to social anxiety than older people.
Most healthcare providers utilize different channels for different patient engagement purposes, each with their own specifics like the extent of their reach, possible levels of personalization, and maintenance costs. Therefore, it’s worth exploring each patient-provider interaction channel in more detail.
Thanks to the general availability of high-speed internet, the future of telemedicine is quite certain across the globe. High video and audio quality allows healthcare specialists to examine, diagnose and even treat patients remotely. Telehealth software for primary care is especially useful for people that don’t have access to healthcare organizations in their residential area, or simply want a second opinion. Pediatric telemedicine solutions are life-saving for children who can’t risk hospital infections, and remote psychiatric sessions help alleviate the pressure on patients that have mental issues that prevent them from leaving the house. Telehealth also simplifies holding conferences with specialists from multiple organizations to solve complicated cases.
Live chats and mobile applications
For people to be actively involved in managing their health, it is important to have access to the relevant information on the go. Taking into account that 85% of Americans own a smartphone nowadays according to Pew Research Center, most providers include mobile apps in their strategies as one of the easiest ways to stay in touch with their patients.
Live chats allow patients to quickly ask questions about their condition or services that don’t necessarily require a thorough consultation. As for mobile applications, there are different kinds for all types of needs: remote patient monitoring solutions that allow keeping track of one’s condition 24/7, custom EHRs that enable specialists to share and review their patients’ medical history,, laboratory applications that help people to get explanations about their test results, and educational portals with easy access to information about rare conditions. Additionally, users of these apps can learn preventive measures for a variety of ailments, report adverse effects of medications, request urgent care, and more.
There’s no better place to build a reputation than social media. Be aware though: without solid social media engagement strategies, it can be just as easily damaged.
Providers can establish themselves as trustworthy and reliable specialists in the public eye through professional posts and open communication with patients in a more casual format. Additionally, social media engagement strategies can greatly contribute to the popularization of preventive healthcare measures like a healthy lifestyle, regular check-ups, exercise, and so on, which positively affects population health.
Patient engagement platforms
Patient engagement platforms are powerful tools that guide users through their entire journey as patients. It allows them to explore which services a particular healthcare organization offers, discover other patients’ reviews on the provider, choose the specialists they prefer, schedule an appointment, communicate with healthcare professionals, make payments, receive information about their condition, get prescriptions and even order medicine online, report any abnormalities during the course of treatment and interact with other users. Overall, a patient engagement platform may include elements from all of the above-mentioned digital channels.
However, not all channels for provider-patient interaction are equally successful. Studies show that a lot of them have room for improvement to meet patients’ expectations.
Next level: using smart tech for patient engagement
Some patient engagement strategies can be greatly improved with smart technology. This is especially relevant for the ones involving websites, live chats, and emails. AI-based communication tools create a human-like interaction and are available 24/7. Equipped with robotic process automation (RPA), these tools can even solve some routine issues that patients may run into. Robots can be triggered by the queries from chatbots to execute pre-set workflows automatically: schedule appointments, display pricing and insurance information, notify users about possible adverse effects, etc.
There are, of course, other, less conversational ways in which modern technology helps streamline some patient engagement workflows, draw insights from incoming patient data and provide better care.
Smart reminders help to avoid gaps in the treatment process by notifying patients about the scheduled visit, vaccinations, and prescription refills or by delivering personalized educational materials.
Smart chatbots help provide non-stop care, supporting patients psychologically, offering them answers to frequently asked questions, or alerting personnel if a health issue comes up.
Smart wearable healthcare devices are great for wellness monitoring, alerting the patient and provider about abnormalities and associated risks, or even automatically calling for emergency care.
AI-driven analytical tools lend themselves well to analyzing health outcomes from large volumes of unstructured information and delivering data-based predictions or recommendations.
Crafting an effective digital patient engagement strategy
Patient engagement strategies can vary depending on a provider’s specialty. Tools and practices that a pharmacy adopts might not be suitable for a research clinic or a surgery center. Strategies should also be flexible enough to evolve alongside the organization, meeting new business objectives and patient demand. That’s why it’s important to build one that works for you – step by step.
Understand your objectives
Define what exactly you want to achieve via patient engagement and examine the resources you can allocate to this task. Then, think about your audience and which channels would be most effective for interacting with them.
For example, private surgical practice and a center for STD prevention in teens would have different patient engagement strategies, because their objectives and target audiences are very distinct. The former would have a primarily informational and educational objective, while the latter would be concerned with post-surgical recovery and patient monitoring. Additionally, social media would be more suitable for engaging with teens, while communicating with surgery patients would be more productive through phone calls, emails, and patient portals.
Keep in mind that your objectives should be measurable, or otherwise, you’ll have no idea if your strategy truly benefits your business and patients. Circling back to our examples, for a surgical practice this would mean measuring recovery times for different groups of patients, the number of readmissions, complications, and adverse effects of treatment. For the STD prevention center, measuring the results would be more complicated and involve working with other healthcare providers to track the reduction of STD-related admissions.
Set the foundations
After you’ve clarified the purpose and touchpoints for your patient engagement strategy, it’s time to organize engagement workflows and implement the software to support them. There are a wide range of solutions available on the market, but it’s important to pay attention to five essential features when choosing one for your company:
- Security. Make sure patient information stays protected, conversations remain private, and data storage and transfer comply with the industry regulations like HIPAA and DICOM.
- Integrability. Connecting all of your healthcare software into one ecosystem is very beneficial for the quality of care. Integrating patient engagement solutions with EHR, CRM, and other systems will enable workflow automation, free your personnel from the tiresome task of manually transferring the needed data, reduce the number of mistakes resulting from it, and speed up the process of updating and accessing the needed information.
- Interoperability. Patients and medical personnel should be able to use the engagement solution on the device of their choice.
- Reliability. Even the best patient engagement strategies won’t bring you good results if patients can’t access the communication touchpoints when they need them. Ensure your solution is able to work uninterrupted and won't be jeopardized by traffic fluctuations or problems with a particular server.
- Scalability. A good solution should be able to evolve alongside your organization, so you don’t have to go through implementing a new one every time your objectives or patient base changes.
Stabilize and govern
It takes time to get the results you want with the strategy you’ve chosen. Patient engagement processes should run like well-oiled mechanisms inside your organization. To achieve this, re-evaluate your service offering and processes and direct them towards enhancing your patient engagement strategy.
It’s also crucial to get your personnel on board. Conduct the necessary training sessions for healthcare professionals to be aware of the strategy and actions needed for its success. Instruct each department about its role and responsibilities and create opportunities for exploring new initiatives.
Analyze patient feedback and improve on it
Last but not least, make sure to continuously measure the results of your new strategy. Here are the most important metrics to track:
- Patient satisfaction rate. Provide your patient with a comfortable way to convey their thoughts and feelings. Patient satisfaction surveys, service review forms, and “rate your visit from 1 to 10” pop-up windows can help you get a scope of how patients perceive your healthcare organization.
- Engagement response rate. See how good your engagement tactic is by checking if patients are willing to interact with you. If it measures below average it may be a sign of needing to improve your methods.
- Health outcomes. Monitor how your patient outcomes change (or didn’t change) over time after implementing the new strategy. This may include the average recovery time for different groups of patients, complications, potentially preventable readmissions, etc.
Such knowledge will enable you to make data-driven decisions about innovation and improvement of the existing patient engagement strategies.
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What’s next for patient engagement
Patient engagement has become an integral part of healthcare worldwide. As our lives become more dependent on technology, patient engagement strategies tailored to the demands of the digital age take their place in global health initiatives.
We’re about to enter an era of proactive patients who define the future of care services alongside the providers. Patient engagement strategies that strengthen collaboration between medical companies and their clients would not only open new business opportunities but, more importantly, help revolutionize the healthcare industry and improve population well-being.