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What Is Patient Engagement?

Improving health outcomes and lowering costs — those are the primary goals of all healthcare organizations. That’s why so many have prioritized patient engagement. Engaged patients are empowered patients who participate in the healthcare decision-making process, resulting in improved health outcomes. Discover how patient engagement can also improve your bottom line.

What is patient engagement?

Patient engagement is the collaboration between healthcare providers and patients in the care plan decision-making process. Engagement with patients empowers clinicians to build trust and stronger relationships, ultimately improving health outcomes.

Patient engagement solutions require that healthcare providers present educational resources on multiple treatment options. Patients must study those resources, then comply with care plans they helped create.

It takes proactive patients and supportive, open-minded clinicians to create beneficial patient engagement solutions. To scale those solutions, healthcare organizations implement patient engagement software that streamlines patient-provider communication and workflows.

Public health policymakers have caught on to this phenomenon. The Affordable Care Act identifies patient engagement as a quality factor in accountable care organizations (ACOs) and in patient-centered medical homes. A section of the law even mandates shared decision-making resource centers to help integrate patient engagement into clinical practice.

Why is patient engagement important?

Patient engagement can truly only improve health outcomes if a patient is determined to participate.

For example, a patient with diabetes that defies a nutritionist’s recommendations could experience a spike in blood sugar levels and, over time, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Patient engagement for diabetes care requires robust patient education on nutrition, including case studies patients can relate to. A provider’s openness to patient medical care preferences further bolsters engagement with patients by building trust and improving health outcomes.

Improving patient engagement can also lower costs for healthcare organizations. When patients are engaged, they may see a decrease in catastrophic health events including cancer, heart attacks, and stroke. These illnesses can overburden healthcare organizations as they require expensive treatments, medical care, and medications, as well as increased hospital bed occupancy. Patient-centered care may result in healthier patients, and healthier patients can help lower costs for healthcare organizations.

What does an engaged patient look like?

According to Patient Engagement HIT, patient activation precedes patient engagement. Patients who have high health literacy levels — those equipped with patient education, patient safety, skill understanding, and confidence to manage their own care — have completed the patient activation stage. They’re ready to play an active role in the decision-making process.

Once they’re following their protocol, they become fully engaged patients. Changing behavior, exercising regularly, asking questions about the latest research on their health conditions, sharing data from their wearables, checking their medical records, and scheduling follow-up preventive care in their patient portal all indicate full-blown patient engagement — which enhances their quality of care.

Successful patient engagement strategies and health IT tools center around patient activation, which encourages each individual patient to manage their own health. This makes improving the patient experience and generating higher patient satisfaction scores much easier.

What are the barriers to patient engagement in healthcare?

Many health IT companies offer tools such as patient engagement software programs, apps, and patient portals to help healthcare providers improve patient engagement. As with any form of innovative technology, these tools can present healthcare organizations with these barriers to successful patient engagement:

  • Technology usability: Even though BankMyCell states that 62% of the world’s population owns a smart and feature phone in 2021, usability remains an issue for population health. If older patients find patient portals, apps, wearables, or other health IT for medical care cumbersome, their levels of patient engagement will plummet.
  • Literacy: In low-income communities, low literacy levels can be a huge barrier to patient engagement. Without the ability to read or understand medical terms, many health IT tools may be rendered ineffective for patients, and ultimately, their healthcare providers.
  • Cognitive issues: Research indicates that patients with cognitive issues may have limited decision-making capacity and lack the ability to manage their own health. While this presents a potential challenge to patient engagement strategies, methods like choice architecture can help gently nudge patients to make selections within their care plan that may lead to better outcomes.
  • Diverse backgrounds: Research conducted by the Patient Advocate Foundation found that patient engagement can be greatly affected by cultural background, sex, age, education, religion, and other patient care variables. Healthcare providers may require additional training in order to properly teach health literacy and engage patients.

Though challenging, these barriers to patient engagement can be overcome with the right patient-centered health IT tools.

How to improve patient engagement

Here are a few engagement strategies that you can implement to improve patient engagement:

Educate patients

Robust patient education requires a full understanding of health conditions, treatments, and lifestyle health literacy. IT proficiency is also important, as it allows patients to access their medical records and care team communications. Healthcare providers can leverage patient education strategies like the teach-back method which disseminates patient education and patient safety materials.

Empower the decision-making process

Engaged patients practice shared decision-making — which can be done in person, via data sharing from wearables, or in patient portals. This patient-centered care approach has been shown to lead to better outcomes.

Support patients

Thanks to health IT innovations, there are many ways to support patients between visits, such as:

  • Multi-channel communication: It’s easier for patients to manage their own health when you offer them multiple communication channels — email, SMS, phone calls, chat apps, and video calls all make reaching out to their health provider and raising health literacy rate easy and more enjoyable.
  • Automated reminders and surveys: Automated appointment reminders ensure patient activation and are a huge factor in successful patient engagement strategies. Patients are notified when they have a follow-up coming up and asked for feedback via automated surveys.
  • Administrative task reduction: Healthcare professionals should be able to focus primarily on patient care — and less on data entry and other tedious, time-consuming tasks. The right health IT tool can help healthcare organizations and family members navigate patient portals for efficient decision-making and better outcomes.

With the help of cutting-edge patient engagement software, healthcare providers can facilitate administrative touchpoints without sacrificing patient care time.

Patient engagement solutions

Patient engagement software is a powerful health IT tool for implementing value-based care. However, not all health IT is created equal. When researching patient engagement software, make sure the tool you choose:

  • Integrates with your other tools and systems (like your EMR/EHR)
  • Protects patient data
  • Allows you to customize your program based on the needs of your teams and patients
  • Streamlines patient communication
  • Automates redundant or repeatable tasks to reduce care team admin workload
  • Coordinates patient care
  • Tracks patient progress
  • Provides the information needed to make informed decisions
  • Measures the efficiency of your program
  • Tracks patient satisfaction scores based on patient experience

With comprehensive Care Management software like Welkin Health, your care team can refine your patient engagement strategy, streamline communication, and enable healthcare providers to do what they do best — patient care.

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.

Make your program more care-centric today.