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Patient Engagement

Patient engagement is a key component of value-based care. When patients are engaged, they feel empowered to actively participate in their care, and their health outcomes improve. Discover how patient engagement can positively impact patients, care providers, and ultimately, your bottom line.

The definition of patient engagement

Patient engagement focuses on collaboration between the healthcare provider and its patient. Clinicians can implement patient engagement in their practices by empowering patients to be active participants in their own care. 

This engagement is bi-directional—patients must be willing and able to participate in their care, and the provider must be willing to step in and provide educational resources and encouragement when necessary. Provider intervention is especially important for patients who don’t show interest in participating in their care. Likewise, an empowered patient cannot improve their health outcomes without their clinician’s support and shared expertise.

Why is patient engagement important?

The value-based care model is not successful without the patient’s engagement and active participation—without the desire to improve their care, maximum health benefits simply cannot be achieved. Additionally, patient pushback can actually cause their health to regress. 

For example, a patient with diabetes that defies their nutritionist’s recommendations could experience a spike in their blood sugar levels and, over time, increase their risk of cardiovascular disease. The patient’s resistance could be a result of their unwillingness to improve their health, or simply stem from their lack of nutrition education. Both are necessary for a patient and provider to be able to work together toward improved health outcomes. 

Improving patient engagement can also lower the total cost of care for healthcare organizations. Keeping patients engaged in their care can decrease catastrophic health events—including cancer, heart attacks, and stroke. These illnesses typically mean high costs for healthcare facilities, as they involve expensive treatments, procedures, and medications, and increase hospital bed occupancy rates. Engaged patients are overall healthier patients, and healthier patients incur lower costs.

What are the barriers to patient engagement in healthcare?

Many health tech companies offer tools—such as software programs, apps, and patient portals—to help healthcare providers improve patient engagement. As with any form of innovative technology, these digital tools can present unique challenges that may hinder healthcare organizations’ ability to implement effective patient engagement. Some of these barriers include:

 

  • Access to technology: While studies show that, as of 2009, 90 percent of the world’s population had access to mobile devices, access to hard-wire technology (such as desktops) is not as prevalent. 
  • Usability of technology: Although mobile devices and other forms of technology are commonplace for the majority of the global population, usability continues to be an issue for older generations. If older patients don’t know how to use their mobile devices or they find digital health tools cumbersome, their levels of engagement will drastically decrease.
  • Literacy: In low-income communities, literacy can be a huge barrier to patient engagement. Without the ability to read or understand medical terms, many digital health tools may be rendered ineffective for patients, and ultimately, their care teams. 
  • Cognitive issues: Research indicates that cognitive issues may present limitations to decision-making. While this presents a potential challenge to patient engagement endeavors, methods like choice architecture can help gently nudge patients to make selections within their care plan that can improve their health outcomes. 
  • Diverse backgrounds: Research conducted by the Patient Advocate Foundation found that shared decision-making is patient-specific. In other words, a patient’s level of engagement can be greatly affected by their cultural background, sex, age, education, religion, and other variables. As such, healthcare providers may require additional training so they are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to properly care for and engage all of their patients.

Though challenging, these barriers to patient engagement can be overcome with the right tools and training.

How to improve patient engagement

There are a few key changes that you can implement at your practice to improve patient engagement. 

Educate patients about important health information

As previously mentioned, to be effectively engaged in their care, patients must have a full understanding of their conditions, treatments, and any necessary lifestyle changes they should be making to improve their health outcomes. Healthcare providers can utilize different patient education strategies, like the teach-back method, disseminating patient education materials, and employing health technology. 

Empower patients in the decision-making process

Practicing shared decision-making—a process in which patients and care clinicians make choices about the patient’s health together—is a great way to engage patients in their care. Shared decision-making improves patient engagement and, subsequently, health outcomes. Ethically speaking, it is also the correct way to approach patient-centered care.

Support them at home, not just when they visit your office

Thanks to digital health technology, there are many ways to support patients in between visits, such as: 

  • Supporting multiple communication channels: Utilizing technology that offers multiple communication channels ensures that patients can communicate with your staff in the way that works best for them.
  • Automating reminders and surveys: Automated appointment reminders ensure that patients are notified when they have a visit with their doctor coming up, and automated surveys give them the opportunity to provide feedback on those visits.  
  • Reducing administrative tasks for your care team so they can focus on patients: Clinicians should be able to focus primarily on caring for patients—and less on data entry and other time-consuming, tedious tasks. The right digital health tool can help healthcare organizations effectively and efficiently tackle admin work so they can prioritize providing high-quality care.

With the help of these types of systems, healthcare providers can increase their touchpoints with patients without taking away from actually delivering care.

Patient engagement solutions

Digital health tools are incredibly powerful when used to help provide value-based care. However, not all health tech is created equal. When you are looking into patient engagement software, make sure the tool you choose does the following:

  • Integrates with your other tools and systems (like your EMR/EHR)
  • Protects patient data
  • Allows you to customize your program based on your team’s and patients’ needs
  • Streamlines communication with patients
  • Automates redundant or repeatable tasks to reduce care team admin workload
  • Coordinates care
  • Tracks patient progress
  • Empowers you to stay on top of gathering information needed to make informed decisions and prove your program’s effectiveness
  • Allows you to measure the efficiency of your program
  • Tracks patient satisfaction scores based on patient experiences

With a comprehensive patient relationship management tool like Welkin Health, your care team can improve your patient engagement strategy, streamline communication, and support providers in doing what they do best—helping their patients. 

Staying connected is crucial for health systems and organizations like Face It TOGETHER—a national nonprofit dedicated to ending the chronic disease of drug and alcohol addiction. To discover how team members at Face It TOGETHER use Welkin’s Care Management platform to effectively engage with patients and support them on their journey to recovery, check out this case study: Innovating Addiction Care Through Powerful Technology