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Strategies to Help Increase Patient Engagement in Healthcare

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Strategies to Help Increase Patient Engagement in Healthcare

A guide to improving patient engagement

Patient engagement can be a major contributor to the long-term growth and success of medical practices and health systems. It’s also a buzzword tossed around so frequently that some healthcare professionals may not even know specifically what “patient engagement” entails. 

According to Patient Engagement HIT, “healthcare organizations need to offer a better patient experience to draw patients into the clinic and keep them coming back for care management. The patient desire is there… but healthcare organizations need to prioritize patient-centered care to deliver on a good consumer experience.” 

In a recent survey, they found that 61% of respondents said they would like to hear from their physician more often. In addition, one in five respondents said doing their taxes is less painful than managing their healthcare.

Patients want a more active role in managing their health and as a result, want better, more communicative, and engaging patient care. But to increase patient engagement in your practice, you must first understand it, prioritize it, and then strategize to improve it. 

Key takeaways:

  1. Patient engagement is the extent to which a patient is involved in and empowered to make proactive decisions about their care journeys.
  2. Engaging patients requires knowing who they are, how to meet their needs, and how to provide the best level of service and patient care. 
  3. Healthcare organizations can help improve patient engagement both in and outside of the office by applying specific strategies and implementing certain technology platforms (see below).

What is patient engagement in healthcare?

Patient engagement is the extent to which your patients feel heard and cared for, and that they feel satisfied with your services so that they return regularly and perhaps even refer others to your practice for continued growth.

More specifically, HealthAffairs.org defines “patient engagement” as a concept that combines patient activation with various interventions designed to increase interaction and promote positive patient behavior, such as obtaining preventive care or exercising regularly.

Patients are empowered by knowledge and information that you can help provide to them. Providing valuable medical information and feedback to your patients enables them to proactively make informed decisions about their health. Engaged patients are also known as “activated patients,” meaning that they engage in positive behaviors such as managing their health and wellness. This helps to improve health outcomes and lower healthcare costs which are the ultimate goals for all medical practices and health systems. 

The core elements of patient engagement

Engaging your patients requires knowing who they are, how to meet their needs, and how to provide the best level of service and patient care. To start thinking about patient engagement in your medical practice, consider the following:

  • Who are your patients, on a human level?
  • Are you meeting their needs around availability and service?
  • Do your services optimize your patients’ health outcomes?
  • Does your technology enable you to leverage practice data as a strategic asset?

Communicating with patients is one way to determine the answers to the above questions - listen to your patients and observe their behaviors and patterns. Once you’ve answered these questions you can start to think about specific patient engagement strategies that your medical practice can use to proactively improve patient engagement and empower your patients to make informed decisions about their health.

Strategies for increasing engagement

When considering ways to increase patient engagement in your medical practice, the following patient engagement techniques can be helpful in optimizing patient engagement:

  1. Mobility – Patients must be able to easily interact with your practice and engage via their chosen communication devices (smartphone, tablet, computer, etc.)
  2. Clarity – Make sure that all signage and patient instructions are free from jargon. Any directional signs or medication instructions, for example, should be communicated in simple layman’s terms that are easily comprehended by people without professional medical knowledge.
  3. Accessibility – Patient access is a universal goal. Remove any barriers to inclusivity to ensure that your services are accessible to patients of all abilities, cultures, and socio-economic levels. This requires providing communication options for various language abilities, for anyone who is physically or mentally impaired, as well as for those patients who are visually or hearing impaired. 
  4. Technology and automationDigital technologies, online portals, and wearables are several key technology tools that should be fully utilized to keep your patients engaged, updated, and informed. For example, two-way messaging could replace back-and-forth phone calls with patients if your patients prefer texting. Or videos and emails could replace pamphlets, brochures, and paper mailers that may get thrown out or lost in the shuffle after an appointment. Additionally, wearable devices enable you to collect real-time patient data in a way that is accurate and convenient for patients. Wearables also help provide immediate biofeedback to patients, so that they can stay motivated and see how their behaviors specifically impact their health.
  5. Personalized patient feedback – Communication and feedback work both ways. Patients need to feel seen and heard. Providing patients personalized feedback about their health and their care is paramount. Additionally, it’s also important to obtain their feedback about their experience at your practice, which can help you to identify weaknesses in your patient engagement overall. Therefore, a simple tool such as a patient satisfaction survey can greatly enhance the patient experience, while enabling you to identify needed areas of improvement within your medical practice.

Where to begin? 

Improving patient engagement involves many processes, moving parts, and variables. Start by considering and evaluating every part of the patient journey with your organization, from scheduling an appointment, to the post-treatment plan and follow-up.

How streamlined is your patient communication and interaction? How long are patients left waiting for a reply? Is all communication efficient and effective throughout every step of a patient encounter?

Below are several areas to evaluate and enhance as needed:

Patient interaction: Is your patient-facing technology user-friendly, interoperable, and patient-centric? Strong patient communication can facilitate better patient outcomes via improved patient compliance, advocacy, and support. Patients need a direct line of communication (digitally, in addition to phone calls) with your office staff and care team.

Clinical access: Do patients have a reliable point of contact for questions and updates throughout their course of treatment with your healthcare organization? How connected is your team with the practice’s patients? Do patients have easy access to and support for their care? Solutions for improved engagement include access to care and multiple treatment options, specialty pharmacy triage, distribution solutions, lab test results coordination, and nurse visits.

Financial solutions: Are you consistently helping patients obtain the resources they require to remain active as a patient and obtain the care that they need? How user-friendly are your payment systems – and do you have contactless options available? Financial solutions that help to improve patient engagement include insurance verification, benefits investigation, claims appeals and re-coding, prior authorization, co-pay assistance, and bridge therapy programs.

Education: How are you delivering educational insights to inform patient decision-making and behaviors? Educational engagement solutions include updated medical information and pharmacovigilance, nursing educational support, and between-visit care.

Motivating and Empowering Patients

If your patients aren’t motivated to take care of their health, none of the above engagement strategies will work. Motivated patients are essential to patient engagement. 

Recent studies of healthcare providers and health organizations reveal that patient-provider communication, such as the practice of interpersonal exchange, and treatment goal setting can significantly improve patient engagement. 

And while you can’t force patients to comply, you can make it as easy as possible for them to proactively manage and optimize their health with consistent screening reminders, positive feedback, and convenient health and wellness support programs.

Many technology providers, like Klara, are committed to the goal of improving the patient-provider relationship. Klara’s conversational patient engagement platform, for example, is built so patients are able to have better access to their health information and healthcare providers. Klara's goal is to enable practices to deliver a seamless, patient-centric experience that benefits both staff and patients alike. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how Klara can help your medical practice improve engagement with your patients — click here to book a demo today.

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Andrea Clement

Andrea has worked in the healthcare industry since 1998, in sales, recruiting, and consulting, including several years as a patient documentation specialist. Since 2007, she has written about the business of healthcare for a variety of media outlets and healthcare companies including health tech, clinical research, and physician staffing firms. She’s currently a media consultant and freelance writer specializing in healthcare B2B content & PR.

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