Over 90 percent of physicians think that patient portals (accessible through apps or other digital means), could improve health outcomes. Plus, with the changes being made in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, patient-reported outcomes really matter for health care providers who want to stay in the black.
These developments and similar others point to a common theme: a need for better patient engagement. And while EHRs and EMRs are now commonplace, communication and collaboration between patients and care teams still remain a challenge.
To improve health outcomes across the board and maximize reimbursements from payers, care teams need to be intentional with patient engagement strategies.
What Is Patient Engagement?
Though patient engagement is a hot topic these days, the term itself isn’t always clear. That’s why it’s important to define it before diving into the specifics of better involvement.
When Welkin talks about patient engagement, we’re talking about building relationships between patients and clinicians through solid and consistent communication lines—ideally, more than once a year. Consequently, these relationships end up feeling coequal as opposed to hierarchical, and patients are more likely to share in decision making.
At the bare minimum, engagement encourages patients to take an interest in their own health. Patient relationship management, however, takes this a step further and empowers patients to actually do something about their conditions.
In short, rather than viewing patients as an extra in their own health care story, providers establish patients with a main role in their medical narrative. What makes this so challenging is that most patient engagement happens outside of clinical settings and episodic care.
Since many care team members are swamped with in-person needs of patients, maintaining relationships from afar is even more challenging than it appears at first glance.
Patient Engagement as an Afterthought
As a result of the relentless workflow facing many clinicians, engagement turns into an afterthought even if it is well-intentioned. This isn’t to say, however, that clinicians don’t understand the need for better engagement. On the contrary, they regularly experience gaps in patient care and wish they had the time or ability to fix it.
With such a large need for better patient relationships, why then is patient engagement not at the forefront of health care organizations’ priorities?
Burnout: The Unseen Inhibitor
According to many, including the Harvard Global Health Institute and Massachusetts Medical Society, physician burnout is a public health crisis. In fact, nearly a third of clinicians think that more manageable work hours would improve mental health and wellness among care team members.
With long work hours, staggering patient-to-clinician ratios, and the ever-rising pressure of chronic illnesses and government regulations, many care team members are at their limit for providing better patient experiences. Large patient populations prevent providers from truly fostering patient engagement.
After long hours of caring for others, care team members don’t have the bandwidth to develop scalable patient relationships. Other pressing responsibilities, such as completing and submitting their charts, take precedence. Thus, patient engagement becomes an afterthought, not due to lack of desire, but because of intense workflow and responsibilities.
Need for Consistent Care
Large hospital systems, on the other hand, need established protocols to keep organizations running smoothly. Many of these traditional operating procedures fail to prioritize patient experience as well. Fitting better engagement into these processes can also be challenging.
Though many within these health care organizations want to improve patient engagement, creating consistent levels of care across the entire system feels impossible. As a result, some have resorted to hiring case managers. And while this has relieved some of the pressure, the challenges still remain.
Putting Out Fires Rather Than Stopping the Blaze
The result of all of patient-to-clinician ratios, care team burnout, and large organizations needing established procedures is patient engagement taking a backseat. And while at first glance this doesn’t seem like a problem, it really is. Here’s why.
If health care systems don’t leverage the power of patient involvement, care team workflow and pressures will likely continue to spiral out of control. The reason for this is simple.
With chronic diseases growing and numbers of patient populations rising, care teams must focus on incident management rather than taking preventative action through patient engagement. As a result, these acute and non-acute incidents continue to increase, putting more pressure on care team workflow and leaving even less time for patient relationships.
That being said, patient engagement, admittedly, isn’t a fix-all for every health care woe. But with the particular challenges facing medical organizations today, better patient relationships are one of the few solutions that could simultaneously offset population pressures, regulation expectations, and the chronic illness crisis all at the same time.
Steps to Facilitate Better Patient Engagement
Patient engagement that doesn’t value and optimize clinicians’ time isn’t a viable solution for scalable growth. That’s why engagement tools should include these key features—to put a premium on patients’ and clinicians’ concerns and time constraints.
1. Manage Easily
Engagement needs to happen during the small gaps of time that care managers or other clinicians have. For instance, Welkin’s relationship management tools take minimal time to track patient progress. The platform integrates with other digital tracking systems such as EHRs, thereby reducing manual entry for care team members.
With an interface that gives medical staff a quick view of patients’ track records, team members can quickly assess who needs to be contacted via phone call or video conferencing. As a result, providers throughout large medical organizations can collaborate together to keep patients from falling through the cracks.
2. Hire a Care Manager
Care managers are a valuable piece of the puzzle because they take ownership over the patient engagement process and facilitate collaboration between care team members—all while monitoring patients through digital tools.
Care managers who use Welkin’s tools are able to delegate patient needs, schedule follow-up calls, and view patients’ adherence to care plans. For instance, through surveys, assessments, or automated emails, they can gather useful data about patients’ medication adherence, weight loss progress, and post-op difficulties.
Consequently, care teams can stay on top of concerning symptoms or behaviors before they require costly treatments.
When used correctly, automation can improve patient relationships. The key is to tie these automated features directly back to personal interactions.
For instance, team members can set up an automated email or text message to be sent out to patients after discussing their care plan during a phone call. This way, they can gather concrete data about patient experience while still maintaining a personal connection.
Automation removes tasks from physicians’ and other care team members’ to-do lists to a platform like Welkin. As a result, team members have more time to focus on in-person appointments and follow-up care while keeping track of patients both near and far.
4. Use Evidence-Based Assessments
To improve patient care over the long term, evidence-based assessments are needed. Care teams can gather data that will help improve their program while maximizing clinicians’ time and workflow.
Care managers simply set up the assessment with evidence-based guidelines, gather the data, and view with Welkin’s comprehensive overview. In addition, raw data from responses is also viewable if managers want to manually analyze and glean insights.
5. Develop the Best Procedures and Workflow
Even within a unified health system, care teams have different workflows. Rather than squeeze each team into one mold, Welkin believes each one should be able to customize procedures to meet their own unique needs. This allows clinicians to operate efficiently with clear steps that optimize their time.
By creating a workflow through Welkin, care teams also save time onboarding new employees. New team members simply follow the customized procedures to enable consistent patient engagement across the board.
6. Understand One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Just like each care team differs from one another, patients are also individual cases. That’s why it’s important for care teams to be able to stratify populations in their program. For example, care managers may want to consider which demographics are most likely to respond to text messages as opposed to email.
Via patient portals, program directors can even gather data about how patients prefer to be contacted. With patient relationships tools like Welkin, care teams can conduct the right outreach for the right people with the click of a button.
Patient relationship management needs to be intentional, buti t may never happen without the right tools. That’s why Welkin exists—to enable providers to create efficient workflows that naturally incorporate patient engagement strategies into care plans.
Health care providers, from primary care clinics to the large hospital systems, need to leverage patient engagement to improve patient-reported outcomes, increase their bottom line, and alleviate care team workflow. In all of these aspects, Welkin is here for you with tools that are designed to work with you, not against you.
Download our ebook to discover how to create one-of-a-kind patient engagement experiences.