A guide to patient engagement technology

A guide to patient engagement technology

September 9, 2020

Healthcare Analyst

With the recent shift from reactive to preventive medicine, patients have become the center of the healthcare system. No doubt the shift is positive—it allows patients to control their health and use doctors’ help only when required. At the same time, this positive change puts providers under additional stress—now they need to not only treat patients but also engage them in their health management to build productive partnerships.

Luckily, there’s a vast array of digital tools that can help with patient engagement, and healthcare software developers readily provide competent assistance regarding this. But how exactly can you orchestrate patient engagement solutions within medical organizations? We’ve prepared a guide to help healthcare professionals facilitate the process using a specific patient engagement technology. But what is this technology about?

What is patient engagement technology

To providers’ relief, this is not another costly IT solution. In this case, technology is a strategy that comprises several measures or steps helping providers to move forward on their way to preventive care. The key point of this strategy is involving patients in their personal health management (patient engagement) and enabling them to use diverse solutions to make informed decisions about their health. Fortunately, providers have a powerful facilitator in these tasks: patients’ interest in independent health management.

Business Insider has looked into the popularity of wearable health technology and found out that the wearable device user base is set to grow by 2-3 three million adopters every year between 2020 and 2024, reaching 72 million adults by 2024, which makes about a third of the US adult population. But what does this data have to do with patients’ interest in independent health management?

In fact, all these devices collect data on different health parameters that users may store and analyze to change their habits and improve their health. Practice shows that today’s consumers are able to assume responsibility for their health and manage it proactively. In this way they become full-fledged partners in care for their medical services providers.

Now let’s look at the operational tasks in this step-by-step patient engagement guide.

Revisit your digital environment

Plunging into new software development requires extra time and money, which the majority of healthcare providers typically lack. With that in mind, we recommend you to examine the solutions you already have in place and see which of them can contribute to patient engagement.

CRM cleaning

Patients and their needs make the core of any healthcare facility, so an effective system for customer relationship management is a must. Providers have already understood the significance of healthcare CRM for patient retention and acquisition. After all, according to MarketsandMarkets, the medical CRM market is to hit $17.4 billion by 2023.

So you got into CRM development and already have the system up and running. However, to be fully efficient, it requires regular reviews.

Sadly, the quality of data in such systems tends to deteriorate with time—some patients move to another address or provider, and so on. Erroneous and incomplete data in a hospital CRM may lead to faulty analytics and a subsequent drop in the service quality, which leads to patient churn. To prevent this, you should revise the CRM, detect bad data and fix it by deleting irrelevant entries and filling the gaps. This is a time-consuming effort, so you might need professional data quality assurance services.

Patient portal revamp

Apart from the CRM, there may be another health IT solution worth a closer look in terms of generating your patient engagement—a patient portal.

In fact, the boom of medical providers’ online presence started a while back. In 2018, the Customer Experience Trends in Healthcare report by Doctor.com revealed that about 80% of potential patients had looked up healthcare-related information on the internet in the previous year. However, today’s patients are demanding, so merely listing all services and contacts on a simple web page may leave them dissatisfied. Patients are busy people, and they prefer to have their issues solved in seconds. All this is possible with patient portals.

In 2018, the overwhelming 90% of the US providers launched portals to follow the patient centricity stance, as shown in the survey by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). This is echoed in the Research and Markets stats reporting that the global patient portal market will grow at a CAGR of 17.9% and reach over $5.5 billion by 2025.

And yet, the patient portal use rate has been lingering at around 30% for years (MGMA), and most users are still occasional visitors who check some lab results or schedule a consultation and hardly ever return.

So is it time to look for another digital solution to replace the conventional portal? Hold on. We suggest revamping your existing solution to match patients’ needs more fully.

Patient education

With access to a range of educational sources, modern patients are ready to manage their health more actively. At the same time, patients’ curiosity and proactiveness have a pitfall.

Having read about their symptoms online or elsewhere, they may go for self-diagnosing and self-treating. iMD Health reports that 83% of Canadians prefer to look up their symptoms and treatments online instead of seeing a professional, which may turn out hazardous, since erroneous diagnoses cause anxiety in about 50% of patients while also posing threats to health.

So why not offer your patients a reliable source of health information reviewed by authorized professionals? Although tailoring a specific educational module is time- and effort-intense, it may bring significant results. The 2019 study on reducing readmission rates for patients with cancer and heart failure reported that patient education was instrumental in lowering the readmission rate from 40 to 27%.

PGHD support

With the transition to preventive care and patient centricity, patients have started to look for tools that allow them to monitor their health continuously via wearables, such as fitness trackers, which accumulate patient-generated health data (PGHD). In their 2019 Health and Healthcare survey, Gallup found out that about half of US adults (45%) have tried one or more wearable products. Moreover, the majority (85-92%) are content with how the tools impact their health.

Letting your patients upload their wearable data to the portal can be an effective route to higher patient engagement. Besides, you can also extend your service offer with a professional analysis of the data for health improvement under supervision.

Introduce telehealth & RPM

In the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to qualified care with no exposure risks is what patients need most, and telehealth technologies can provide it in full. They comprise a range of software products, from telehealth solutions to remote patient monitoring tools.

Just looking at the stats makes it clear telemedicine is experiencing a 30x upsurge:

Telemedicine appointments before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic

Though Statista is not too positive about the post-pandemic future of telemedicine, other sources suggest that patients will keep to virtual care. McKinsey & Company reports 76% of patients are interested in telehealth (including telemedicine) after the pandemic. Moreover, a telemedicine solution may help you extend the reach and deliver care to some remote or rural locations.

It’s vital to remember that the solution success and adoption is not only about creating a secure video conference app you can delegate to developers. It requires some work on your part, too. Before deploying your telemedicine app, you should prepare a handbook for patients, which clearly describes all the steps they should take to connect and make the most of an e-consultation.

While telemedicine solutions cater to all patients, there are some groups that are in need of 24/7 tracking of their health parameters. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) tools are designed exactly for this purpose.

Just like telemedicine, remote patient monitoring is a good option in turbulent times. It reduces visits to providers’ premises and helps patients and doctors follow social distancing and prevent exposure with no harm to the quality of healthcare services. It also helps doctors reduce overwork and burnout and make better care decisions.

In primary care, basic RPM devices include glucose level monitors, blood pressure cuffs, heart rate monitors, and more. These devices continuously gather data on vitals and transmit it to the provider’s cloud storage for the clinicians to access and evaluate the dynamics. In case of critical drops or spikes in the measured parameters, smart RPM devices can alert assigned caregivers, the emergency line, and even family members. For obvious reasons, RPM tech is a good choice for patients with chronic diseases.

Providing full-scale RPM services requires a proper digital environment with integrated data-collecting devices and the EHR database, as well as some extra efforts to ensure healthcare data security. If a patient uses the RPM device, the measured data can be automatically synchronized with their health records.

To have RPM device data available during telemedicine visits, you would need a telemedicine-ready EHR. What’s more, in some cases, you can do without purpose-built devices but use smartphone sensors (cameras, touch screens, and microphones) to enable the monitoring.

Add secure mobile apps to the mix

Today’s patients are positive about self-control over their health. However, they’d love to manage their health with the least possible effort when it’s convenient to them. Mobile healthcare apps fully meet these demands.

For a better adoption of your app, you may start with secure, professionally supervised health app development for chronic-condition patients specifically, as they tend to adhere to recommendations on an ongoing basis. At the same time, these patients may spread the word about the app and its features among other patients, who may feel like having an app for themselves, too. You’ll just need to launch some short survey to study their preferences and provide a suitable solution.

Some additional measures should be taken to make sure the app works for generating patient engagement and loyalty. First of all, an app is an extra care tool you can use to improve patient outcomes. To do so, you can enable reminders about appointments, the tests needed, and drug intake plans. To build a good rapport, you may also add post-discharge or post-visit follow-ups to be abreast of the patient’s health and prevent potential relapses. It may contribute to patient retention and loyalty building.

Go for patient segmenting & journey mapping

You might have implemented all the solutions above by following good practices and expert assistance, but patient engagement still leaves much to be desired. Why so? Improving engagement requires a better understanding of patients’ decision-making and its driving forces.

This is where patient segmenting may help. It’s a sort of survey, yet its questions focus on behaviors and attitudes disregarding demographics.

In 2018, Deloitte performed the segmentation analysis of US healthcare consumers, to find out the four distinct groups of patients that had different goals and, consequently, types of behavior:

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Then the researchers combined the results with demographic data and drew more insights to map the ways of improving patient engagement. Here’s an example of this detailed analysis:

Example of a healthcare consumer segment profile, Deloitte

The patient groups identified in this segmentation analysis are basically personas. To engage them, you can proceed with patient journey mapping using specialized tools. It helps visualize each persona’s path throughout the care continuum from awareness to lifestyle changes and preventive care, identify weak links, and build improvement strategies to meet the patients’ needs and provide a better experience.

For providers, journey mapping helps cover these four  goals:

  • Visualizing hurdles that patients meet when accessing care, and mitigating them.
  • Identifying the ways to provide a better treatment experience.
  • Designing follow-up measures after the treatment ends.
  • Identify patients’ emotions at each of the touchpoints and drafting a strategy for improving patient experience.

How effective is technology for patient engagement in clinical trials?

Clinical trials have long been a very traditional medical field with hand-written therapy diaries and frequent visits to trial sites. However, the COVID-19 pandemic have put the long-awaited changes in motion.

The thing is, the year 2020 has been tough for clinical research companies. The pandemic caused a range of clinical trial sites to suspend their projects or shut down completely and instilled the fear of in-person site visits. As a result, in 2020 patient enrollment has fallen dramatically, dropping by 73% in May in comparison with the data for May 2019.

The dip in recruitment made clinical researchers reconsider clinical trial management and look at alternative trial models—decentralized and hybrid trials. This is where the technology plays a critical part in patient engagement.

In those types of trials, patients hardly ever travel to trial sites but connect with their supervising clinicians via a telemedicine app, collecting the needed data using their wearable devices. The data is synchronized with the respective digital solution regularly.

Clinical research companies believe decentralized and hybrid trials are very promising, as they offer a range of benefits to both parties—researchers and patients:

  • Improved experience. These trial modes let patients obtain quality care right from home, reducing the stress and fatigue caused by regular trial site visits. This may upscale patient experience.
  • Reduced paperwork. Trial clinicians may focus on successful patient engagement and comprehensive support instead of data uploading or reporting, which in traditional trials are done manually. 
  • Lower dropout rates. As virtual studies are no longer bound to geographic locations, researchers have a good chance of recruiting truly interested patients. This may help lower the dropout rate. For example, a recent atopic dermatitis virtual trial from Denmark (July 2020) reported a 96% retention rate.

As we can see, telehealth technology and mobile solutions make an important part of patient onboarding and retention in alternative models of clinical trials. Thanks to them, patients can undergo innovative treatments with no need to travel to trial sites. They just need to report their symptoms carefully during e-consultations and track the needed health parameters for clinicians’ consideration.

Nevertheless, the transition to decentralized trials may be not as seamless as it seems. Experts claim certain efforts are needed to ensure the data quality. Thus, wearable devices used in a trial should be customized and validated. This will help clinicians make sure the tools collect the required data correctly.

A thing to remember

When it comes to patient engagement, success is not always the result of implementing a technology. Visibility and communication are also critical. To prove the point, the researchers from Regenstrief Institute (IN, US) ran a survey aimed at discovering how many Indiana-based patients used health IT (HIT) solutions to connect with their practitioners in 2019:

Patient communication channels in Indiana

As we can see, less than half of the patients used the tools, and only one-fifth discussed the mechanics of these solutions with their doctors. The reason for the low engagement rate may be that patients just don’t know about the solutions in place and stick to traditional channels—email, text messages, etc.

One of the few widely agreed upon recommendations for electronic communication in healthcare is for providers to be talking to their patients about it ahead of time. This does not appear to be happening regularly.

Joy L. Lee

Joy L. Lee

PhD, Regenstrief Institute Research Scientist

Luckily, this barrier is easy to overcome—you just need to educate clinicians about the tech solutions in place and encourage them to discuss health IT tools with their patients. In this case, patients will be able to make an informed choice about the channels for communicating their health issues.

The round-up

When it comes to venturing into the patient engagement technology adoption, we suggest you follow three steps:

  • Start with improving the solutions that are already there, such as your healthcare CRM or patient portal.
  • Then you can proceed with introducing solutions that help provide quality care remotely, like telemedicine apps and RPM tools.
  • With the bases covered, you will be able to continue offering engagement-centric services for specific patient segments.

It’s important to remember that adopting patient engagement technology is not a one-way effort. Clinicians should be there for patients to inform them about the available solutions and assist them when needed. Otherwise, patient engagement tools are likely to fall short of reaching their ultimate goal.